Obama races back to White House as hurricane looms


US President Barack Obama raced back to the White House Monday ahead of Hurricane Sandy, which threw election endgame plans into turmoil just one week before he asks Americans for a second term.
Democrat Obama ditched plans to appear with ex-president Bill Clinton in Florida to steer a huge government relief effort as high winds and torrential rains began to lash the northeastern United States.
Millions of people faced the prospect of damage from snapping trees, severe flooding and power outages, including in some key swing states like Virginia, where Sandy’s “October Surprise” may have an unpredictable electoral impact.
Grabbing a chance to leverage the built-in advantages of incumbency, Obama made clear his focus, until Sandy had barreled through, was the safety of Americans, not his own immediate political fate. “Obviously my first priority has to be to make sure that everything is in place for families,” the president told campaign workers in Florida late Sunday.
“That’s going to be putting a little bit more burden on folks in the field, because I’m not going to be able to campaign quite as much over the next couple of days.” The president had been due to appear in Florida, Ohio and Virginia with the popular former Democratic president on Monday, and also scotched plans to head west to Colorado, another swing state, on Tuesday.
Republican Mitt Romney also altered his plans as he tried to drive recent momentum right up to polling day on November 6, seeking to fracture Obama’s “firewall” of midwestern states and deprive him of a second term.
The Republican instead canceled rallies in storm-threatened Virginia and went instead to inland Ohio, the Midwestern epicenter of the unpredictable final week battle for the White House.
He was due to spend Monday on the stump in Ohio and Iowa, though will likely tame the vehemence of his message, to avoid accusations he is playing politics while Obama hovers above the fray and shows leadership.
Romney did make an attempt to inject himself into what is likely to be days of news coverage dominated by Sandy’s assault, in which the president is also likely to play a prominent role.
“Tonight, Ann and I are keeping the people in Hurricane Sandy’s path in our thoughts and prayers,” Romney said in an email message to supporters.
“I hope that if you can, you’ll reach out to your neighbors who may need help getting ready for the storm — especially your elderly neighbors,” he said, and asked backers to bring election yard signs inside. “I’m never prouder of America than when I see how we pull together in a crisis. There’s nothing that we can’t handle when we stand together,” Romney said.
The storm, expected to be at its most severe Monday and Tuesday, was the latest manifestation of the “October Surprise” — the fabled late-campaign news event with the potential to sway the outcome of a US election.


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