WASHINGTON -- President Obama has suspended his campaign schedule -- skipping scheduled stops in Florida and Wisconsin -- and has returned to the White House to monitor Hurricane Sandy.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is nixing campaign stops today and tomorrow, too, and both campaigns have stopped actively fundraising in states in Sandy's path. Vice President Joe Biden canceled a Thursday campaign visit that he had scheduled to Scranton, the city where he grew up.
The campaign said Monday that it was canceled to ensure that all local law enforcement and emergency management resources can focus on public safety during the storm.
With the race in a dead heat these final eight days are crucial to the candidates but both are sitting it out, at least for now. They've even asked East Coast residents to collect ubiquitous yard signs to prevent them from becoming projectiles in high winds.
In an address at 12:45 p.m. Mr. Obama said: "I am not worried at this point about the effect on the election. I'm worried about the impact on first responders and I'm worried about the impact on our economy and on transportation. The election will take care of itself next week. Right now our first priority is to make sure that we are saving lives, that our search and rescue teams are in place and that people are going to be able to get food and water."
The Romney campaign said it doesn't want emergency workers to be tied up providing security at campaign events when they are needed in hurricane ravaged areas. Aides have turned his campaign bus into a mobile depot for donations of storm supplies.
"Governor Romney believes this is a time for the nation and its leaders to come together to focus on those Americans who are in harm's way," said Gail Gitcho, Romney comunications director.
And both candidates over the weekend urged residents in the hurricane's path to help each other make it through the storm.
In an e-mail to supporters Mr. Romney urged donations to the American Red Cross.
During a stop at a Florida campaign office Sunday, Mr. Obama told volunteers their state is critical in the election and that he'll have to count on them to help even more now that he's had to cancel the rest of his campaign schedule there.
"I hate to put the burden of the entire world on you but basically it's all up to you," he told them.
It's also up to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. A quick and efficient response by the agency could help the president in the voting booth but a faltering one could hurt his chances for re-election.
Typically, disasters help incumbents, said Michael Federici, chairman of the Political Science Department at Mercyhurst College in Erie.
It gives the president the opportunity to travel to damaged areas -- especially Virginia, a key swing state in the line of the storm, where he can show his sympathy, get a lot of media coverage and release federal dollars to provide relief, Mr. Federici said.
"The only way it doesn't help him is if he screws it up like Bush did with Katrina, but there's no way Obama is going to screw it up," he said.
There's a counterweight to Mr. Obama's storm-response advantage, though, he said. The storm will make people in affected areas more dissatisfied with their lives, and whenever people are unhappy they seek change, he said. That would benefit Mr. Romney.
Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-996-9292. First Published October 29, 2012 12:45 AM