AVON LAKE, Ohio — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney curtailed his campaigning Monday as Hurricane Sandy churned closer to the East Coast and urged supporters to donate to the Red Cross or other relief agencies gearing up to help storm victims.
"Do your very best to help," he urged them.
Romney will go ahead with a scheduled rally Monday afternoon in Iowa, but has canceled an evening event in Wisconsin. He also will not campaign in Ohio and Iowa on Tuesday as planned. His campaign has mobilized campaign staff across Virginia, which was being lashed by the storm, to collect donations for victims and he called on others in the hurricane's path to remove yard signs that could become dangerous projectiles in windy conditions.
Locked in a close race, the storm has created major headaches for both presidential candidates eight days before the Nov. 6 election.
The decision to cancel the campaign events was announced shortly after President Barack Obama decided to skip a morning rally in Florida and fly back to Washington to oversee the government's hurricane response from the White House. Obama also canceled campaign events scheduled for Tuesday.
Aides at Romney's campaign headquarters in Boston were scrambling to sketch out political contingency plans. In addition to postponing events, they planned to scale back criticism of Obama to avoid the perception that Romney was putting politics ahead of public safety.
The logistical strains on Romney's campaign were immediate.
In an organization where motorcade rides, rallies and the candidate's movements are scheduled down to the minute days before they happen, it remained unclear until about 3 p.m. Eastern time where Romney and his entourage of reporters, staffers and Secret Service agents would sleep Monday night. Reporters peppered his aides with possible swing states — Nevada? Florida? Colorado? — but received only anxious smiles until it was announced that Romney would return to Ohio to spend the night.
Spokesman Rick Gorka insisted that Romney was not wholly suspending his campaign on Tuesday, despite canceling his rallies. Gorka would not provide further details.
Meanwhile, Romney did not ignore politics on Monday. He kept one eye on the storm and one eye on the Nov. 6 election.
"I know the people of the Atlantic Coast are counting on Ohio and the rest of our states," he told more than 2,000 supporters in the gymnasium of an Ohio high school on Monday afternoon. "But also I think the people of the entire nation are counting on Ohio because my guess is that if Ohio votes me in as president I'll be the next president of the United States."
Campaign officials say Republican vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan also was scrapping rallies in Florida and Colorado.
Romney was also considering traveling to New Jersey later in the week, where he could meet with victims and survey storm damage with Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a top Romney ally.
The move would mimic Romney's actions after the Republican National Convention in Tampa., Fla., in late August, which was cut short because of Hurricane Irene. He toured storm damage in Louisiana with Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, another top supporter.
Republicans concede that the storm essentially pushed a pause button on the momentum Romney had been building in key states. But aides insist he is in a strong position in critical battlegrounds like Ohio, Florida, Colorado and Iowa, but acknowledge Virginia could be a problem. Romney was forced to cancel three rallies planned for Virginia on Sunday. It was unclear whether he'll be able to return before the election.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who was traveling with Romney, said Monday that the campaign was reviewing its plans "minute by minute," but downplayed the impact of the storm on Romney's chances of winning the election.
"It's been a long campaign and I think the issues are pretty much cemented in peoples' minds right now," Priebus said. "The first thing is making sure that people in the path of the storm are safe."