October 29, 2012 9:26:21 AM
ORLANDO -- The presidential race's final full week was devolving into a scheduling nightmare as President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney grappled with how to push on with campaigning while a massive storm churned toward the East Coast.
Parts of four competitive states were in the path of Hurricane Sandy: Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio and New Hampshire.
Obama, seeking to project presidential leadership, scrapped plans to hold three events in three states today with former President Bill Clinton. Instead, Obama was to attend only a morning rally in Florida before returning to Washington to oversee the government's emergency response.
"I'm not going to be able to campaign quite as much over the next couple of days," Obama told volunteers in Florida Sunday night.
Romney canceled a trio of Virginia events Sunday, but was scheduled to visit Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin today. His campaign also canceled events in New Hampshire Tuesday and advisers predicted more scheduling changes were on the way.
"I know that right now some people in the country are a little nervous about a storm about to hit the coast, and our thoughts and prayers are with people who will find themselves in harm's way," Romney told supporters in Ohio on Sunday.
With just over a week until Election Day, neither campaign could afford to fully shut down its political activity in a race that remains tight. Polls suggest Obama has an advantage in reaching the required 270 Electoral College votes. But Romney's campaign is projecting momentum and considering trying to expand the playing field beyond the nine states that have garnered the bulk of the candidates' attention.
A senior Republican official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to disclose private deliberations, said Romney's team was discussing sending the GOP nominee, his running mate Paul Ryan or both to traditionally left-leaning Minnesota during the campaign's final week.
Nearly all of Obama and Romney's attention for most of the race has focused on Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Nevada and Colorado.
Both candidates had planned to blitz through nearly all of those states in the campaign's final days.
For Obama, the storm provided an opportunity to show command in a crisis. He was briefed Sunday on the government's response at the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and spoke by phone to affected governors and mayors.
"Anything they need, we will be there," Obama said. "And we are going to cut through red tape. We are not going to get bogged down with a lot of rules. We want to make sure that we are anticipating and leaning forward."
Obama has declared emergencies in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, authorizing federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts.
During the GOP primaries, Romney suggested the responsibility of responding to natural disasters should be stripped from FEMA and delegated to the states or private businesses.
"Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that's even better," Romney said during a Republican debate broadcast on CNN.
Earlier this year his running mate Ryan, the chairman of the House budget committee, tried to eliminate $10 billion a year in federal disaster aid. Under Ryan's failed proposal, when emergencies arise, Congress would pay for the disaster costs by cutting the federal budget elsewhere.
The president's campaign said it was using its presence on social media to urge supporters to donate to the Red Cross for storm relief efforts. And the campaign said it would stop sending fundraising emails today to people living in areas in the storm's path.
Romney staffers across Virginia plan to collect supplies to deliver to local storm-relief centers after the hurricane hits. And one of Romney's campaign buses was to be used for relief efforts throughout the East Coast, the Republican National Committee said.
The storm was hitting as millions of Americans were already voting. Early voting has been a particular focus for Obama's campaign, which is banking on its massive get-out-the-vote operation to build up advantages ahead of Election Day.
Obama advisers said they didn't expect earlier voting to be significantly affected in any of the competitive states in the storm's path.
A small percentage of voters cast their ballots early in New Hampshire and Virginia. Obama's campaign was encouraging voters in Virginia, however, to take advantage of the state's decision to ease early voting restrictions because of the storm.
But early voting is robust in Ohio and North Carolina. Obama advisers said they were confident they had built up solid totals in the states before the storm that would serve as firewalls if the storm does keep other supporters from casting their votes.