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Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Disrupts Campaign as Obama Cancels Appearances

Storm Roils Campaign as Obama Cancels Appearance

Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Obama greeted his motorcade at Andrews Air Force Base on Monday in Washington. Mr. Obama canceled his campaign plans on Monday to be at the White House as Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the Northeast.

WASHINGTON - President Obama on Monday morning abandoned political campaigning in the face of the huge storm barreling down on the East Coast, canceling an event in Florida and quickly heading back to Washington to coordinate emergency response from the White House.

Hurricane Sandy had already scrambled the political calendar in the final week of the campaign, forcing Mr. Obama and his rival, Mitt Romney, to call off events in Virginia and New Hampshire. Even so, the president flew on Sunday night to Orlando to attend a rally there on Monday.

But the magnitude of the storm and the potential for damage only increased overnight. And so did the prospect that Air Force One might not get back to Washington if it did not leave early Monday.

“Due to deteriorating weather conditions in the Washington area, the president will not attend today's campaign event in Orlando,” Jay Carney, the president's press secretary, said in an early-morning statement. “The president will return to the White House to monitor the preparations for and early response to Hurricane Sandy.”

The president's aides said that former President Bill Clinton would stand in for Mr. Obama at the Orlando rally. The campaign canceled the president's scheduled event in Wisconsin on Tuesday.

Mr. Romney, who flew to Ohio on Sunday night, is expected to keep his schedule of three rallies in Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin. Mr. Romney campaigned in Ohio with his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, on Sunday.

The storm has hampered Mr. Obama's ability to campaign much more. Pursuing political gain while millions face the possibility of power outages, flooding and high winds could make the president look ineffective and uncaring.

On the other hand, the storm also provides Mr. Obama the opportunity to look presidential at a time when voters have become tired of the caustic political talk they hear in television ads and at rallies. Conversely, wall-to-wall coverage of the storm may make it tough for Mr. Romney's campaign message to get through.

Even as the storm bears down, the presidential campaign is continuing on television, with ads for Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama filling in virtually all the space between storm reports on the cable and broadcast networks.

Mr. Obama's campaign announced on Sunday that it would suspend fund-raising e-mails to the states directly affected by the storm, and Mr. Romney's campaign did the same. And the Obama campaign said it would use its Web site, Twitter feed and Facebook page to urge people to donate to the Red Cross instead.

“We urge everyone to take appropriate safety precautions and to follow the guidance of emergency management and public safety officials, and we will continue to monitor the storm to ensure the safety of our supporters, volunteers and staff,” Jen Psaki, a campaign spokeswoman, said on Sunday.

Polls released over the weekend continued to show a tight race between the two men, nationally and in some of the battleground states that will decide which one reaches 270 electoral votes. A Gallup poll of likely voters on Sunday showed Mr. Romney leading Mr. Obama, 50 percent to 46 percent.

Mr. Romney's campaign said on Monday that he had been in touch with the governors of Virginia and New Jersey and that campaign workers in North Carolina, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and New Jersey would be collecting relief supplies to deliver to local emergency facilities. In Virginia, the campaign will be loading storm-relief supplies onto the Romney bus for delivery, the campaign said.

Mr. Obama departed Orlando just after 8:30 a.m. and arrived in the Washington area just before 11 a.m. The press corps assigned to follow him has not been as lucky. Pilots of the charter plane carrying the reporters said on Monday that it was not safe to fly back to Washington from Florida, according to an e-mail from Ed Henry, the Fox News correspondent and president of the White House Correspondents Association. Mr. Henry said the reporters would stay in Orlando overnight.

Mr. Romney issued a statement on Sunday expressing his concern for the people in the path of the storm.

“For safety's sake, as you and your family prepare for the storm, please be sure to bring any yard signs inside. In high winds they can be dangerous and cause damage to homes and property,” Mr. Romney said. “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.”