Sandy Upends Presidential Race As Election Nears

Hurricane Sandy has disrupted the presidential campaigns of President Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney. Both campaigns cancelled scheduled events for Monday and Tuesday.

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President Obama skipped a campaign rally in Florida this morning so that he could go back to the White House and monitor the storm. Republican Mitt Romney has also put his campaign events on hold starting this evening.

As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, it's anybody's guess what the political fallout from the storm might be, with just over a week to go before Election Day.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama planned to spend this day on a high-energy campaign tour with Bill Clinton through the pivotal battlegrounds of Florida, Virginia and Ohio. Instead, he found himself huddled in the Situation Room, getting an update from disaster officials on what he called a big and difficult storm.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the people who are potentially affected. We are extraordinarily grateful for our first responders because they're going to be working 24/7, around-the-clock, nonstop.

HORSLEY: The government has been pre-positioning people in and supplies for a speedy recovery effort. And Mr. Obama has promised not to let the red tape get in the way. But he cautioned today Sandy is so big and slow moving it could be days before repair crews could even start to restore electricity and other basic services.

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OBAMA: I'm confident that were ready. But I think the public needs to prepare for the fact that this is going to take a long time for us to clean up. The good news is we will clean up and we will get through this.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama plans to remain in Washington tomorrow, scrapping plans to attend rallies in Colorado and Wisconsin. Beyond that, aides say they'll adjust the president's schedule day by day.

There is a potential upside in his high visibility role of steering the storm response. But even his adviser David Axelrod briefed political reporters on a conference call this morning. He insisted politics is not guiding the president's decisions.

DAVID AXELROD: We're obviously going to lose a bunch of campaign time, but that's as it has to be. And we'll try and make it up on the back end. So, for us, it's not a matter of optics, it's a matter of responsibility.

HORSLEY: Mitt Romney also canceled his trip to Wisconsin tonight and all of his campaign travel tomorrow. Romney did hold a rally earlier today in Ohio, where he ended his remarks with a reference to the hurricane battering the East Coast.

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MITT ROMNEY: This looks like another time when we need to come together all across the country, even here in Ohio, and make sure that we give of our support to the people who need it.

HORSLEY: Both campaigns have suspended fundraising in the affected states. And both are urging supporters to contribute to the Red Cross. Mr. Obama told reporters at the White House this afternoon, for now, he's focused on his day job.

OBAMA: The election will take care of itself next week. Right now, our number one priority is to make sure that we are saving lives; that our search and rescue teams are going to be in place; that people are going to get the food, the water, the shelter that they need in case of emergency, and that we respond as quickly as possible to get the economy back on track.

HORSLEY: That's not to say the presidential campaign is completely on hold. People tuning into storm coverage on TV tonight are likely to see a flood of political ads.

Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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