All Quiet on Campaign Trail as Sandy Strikes

Storm's Impact Could Affect Early Voting and Even Turnout on Election Day

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A presidential campaign that 's been a blur of political attack ads and candidate travel driven by $2 billion in historic spending has been frozen in place by the fury of a storm no person or government could control.

President Obama told reporters
President Obama told reporters "the election will take care of itself" while the Eastern seaboard responds to Sandy. Credit: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

Exactly one week before the Nov. 6 general election, with some polls showing the race a dead heat nationally, President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney have temporarily taken themselves off the campaign trail.

The candidates cancelled rallies and stump speeches, aiming to free up emergency workers and show voters they put public safety over politics, at least through Hurricane Sandy's landfall and the worst of the storm's impact.

The president, using the bully pulpit of the White House briefing room, said on Monday that "the election will take care of itself," and the priority must be to prepare for and respond to the storm.

Mr. Romney, in Iowa, got his own storm briefing in a telephone conversation with Richard Serino, deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the National Weather Service.

"Hopefully, your thoughts and prayers will join with mine and people across the country as you think about those folks that are in harm's way," he told supporters at a rally in Davenport on Monday. Romney planned to attend a storm-relief event Tuesday in Kettering, Ohio, the campaign said in an emailed statement.

The expected force of the superstorm, combined with its timing and the growing importance of early voting in battleground states, had the potential to affect the outcome like no other weather event in U.S. presidential election history.

"We've never seen anything like this before," said Allan J. Lichtman, a professor of history at American University.

Political TV ad wars continued, with the Obama campaign releasing an ad to air in Ohio refuting a suggestion in a Romney ad that Jeep would move jobs from Ohio to China. Expected power outages along the eastern seaboard may affect how many commercials are seen in battleground states, including Virginia and New Hampshire.

Both campaigns said they were suspending fundraising appeals in four states being hit -- Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and North Carolina.

Mr. Obama canceled a Florida event to fly back to Washington on Monday. He already has scrapped stops in Ohio and Virginia. He also canceled an event set for Green Bay, WI.

"This is the challenge of being the president and a candidate," said David Axelrod, the campaign's chief political strategist. "Being the president comes first. We as a campaign will make the adjustments as necessary and he'll do what he needs to do as president."

At the same time, the Obama campaign announced that former President Bill Clinton, perhaps the president's most powerful surrogate, will campaign this week.

Mr. Romney on Sunday went ahead with rallies in Ohio and Iowa, while canceling events that he and running-mate Paul Ryan scheduled for Monday night and Tuesday in Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin.

"Far too much credit" is placed on the impact of candidate rallies in the closing days of a campaign, Mr. Lichtman said. More important, he said, will be the storm's effect on early balloting and turnout on Election Day.

While researchers have looked at the impact of rain on the 2000 election day in Florida -- the state that determined that year's winner -- there has been nothing on the national scale of Sandy so close to an election, he said.

Bad weather tends to reduce turnout and historically that has helped Republicans, Mr. Lichtman said. With Democrats running ahead in early voting in many states, though, the storm and its aftermath "might affect the ability of Republicans to catch up," he said. "You may have very strange effects going on here. It's fascinating."

~Bloomberg News~
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