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Sandy stalls presidential campaign

Oct. 30, 2012 at 4:40 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 (UPI) -- Campaigning took a timeout Tuesday as President Obama monitored the response to post-tropical Cyclone Sandy and Mitt Romney held a storm relief event in Ohio.

Obama held a conference call in the White House Situation Room with governors and mayors from areas affected by the storm and told them he has directed government officials to do whatever must be done to get help to people as quickly as possible -- with "no bureaucracy. No red tape."

"The president also made clear that his team is working to identify any additional assistance that could further help the state, local, and private sector efforts to bring power back online faster, and that his team would continue aggressively towards this goal," the White House said.

The president visited the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, where he cautioned the storm "isn't over yet" and told those affected by the storm, "America is with you."

The White House said Obama -- who called off campaigning with former President Bill Clinton Monday to return to Washington from Florida -- will not take part in campaign events scheduled for Wednesday in Ohio, but will travel to New Jersey, where he and Gov. Chris Christie are to inspect damage, talk with people affected by the storm and meet with first responders.

At an event in Kettering, Ohio, near Dayton -- attended by former NASCAR driver Richard Petty and country music singer Randy Owen -- Romney urged supporters Tuesday to help those affected by the storm and helped gather donations.

"We have heavy hearts, as you know, with all of the suffering going on in a major part of our country," he said. "A lot of people are hurting this morning and they were hurting last night."

Romney campaigned most of Monday but canceled an evening event in Wisconsin "out of sensitivity" to those pummeled by Sandy, his campaign said. The campaign said he will resume campaigning Wednesday, with rallies in Tampa, Coral Gables and Jacksonville, Fla.

The campaign said GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan will campaign Wednesday in Eau Claire, Green Bay and Racine, Wis. The campaign said Ryan would visit two Romney campaign centers in La Crosse and Hudson, Wis., Tuesday to "thank volunteers who are delivering or collecting items for storm relief efforts."

Vice President Joe Biden canceled two Tuesday events in Ohio and one Thursday in Pennsylvania "out of an abundance of caution" to allow local officials to stay focused on the aftermath of the storm, which extended into some parts of eastern Ohio. Biden Tuesday recorded some radio interviews and was scheduled to travel from Ohio to Sarasota, Fla., where he was to spend the night, the White House said.

"Assuming things continue as they are, we're going to resume our schedule in Florida as scheduled tomorrow," he told reporters.

"We are all hands on deck," he said of the administration's response to Sandy.

He said the federal, state and local effort is "working like it's supposed to. FEMA has been reorganized. It's doing one helluva a job."

Even though the campaign was ostensibly suspended, politics was nevertheless in play.

After Christie offered generous praise to Obama in interviews Tuesday for the handling of the storm disaster, he responded sharply when he was asked on Fox News whether Romney would come to New Jersey to inspect the damage with him.

"I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested," Christie said. "I've got a job to do here in New Jersey that's much bigger than presidential politics, and I could care less about any of that stuff. I have a job to do. I've got 2.4 million people out of power. I've got devastation on the [Jersey] Shore. I've got floods in the northern part of my state. If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don't know me."

While the candidates scrubbed campaign-trail appearances, the campaigns themselves were still active behind the scenes.

The Obama campaign convened a conference call to tell reporters the president was headed to victory, while Romney aides pointed to newspaper endorsements of the former Massachusetts governor and weekend poll results indicating he was gaining momentum in the critical swing state of Ohio.

In-person early voting was canceled Monday and Tuesday in Maryland and the District of Columbia because of the storm.

It was also canceled at 15 to 20 polling places in densely populated Northern Virginia near Washington and in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area, officials said. Virginia is considered a key swing state. Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell told reporters he would ask local officials to extend early voting hours after the storm passes.

The storm forced early voting to be suspended Tuesday in Morgan County, W.Va., on the Maryland-Virginia border, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said.

In North Carolina, another battleground state, early voting sites in some coastal counties were closed Monday because of the weather. But state Board of Elections Executive Director Gary Bartlett said the disruption was minimal.

Early voting proceeded unabated in the swing states of Ohio and Florida, which weren't directly in the storm's path.

Almost 15 million people nationwide have cast early ballots so far, George Mason University's United States Elections Project said.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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