CELINA, Ohio (AP) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama frantically sought to close the deal with voters with precious few days left in an incredibly close race as this year's October surprise - an unprecedented storm menacing the East Coast - wreaked havoc on their best-laid plans.
Ever mindful of his narrow path to the requisite 270 electoral votes, Romney looked to expand his map, weighing an intensified effort in traditionally left-leaning Minnesota. Obama sought to defend historically Democrat turf as the race tightened heading into the final week.
Wary of being seen as putting their political pursuits ahead of public safety, the two White House hopefuls reshuffled their campaign plans as the storm approached. Both candidates were reluctant to forfeit face time with voters in battleground states like Virginia that are likely to be afflicted when Hurricane Sandy, a winter storm and a cold front collide to form a freak hybrid storm.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, right, and his vice presidential running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., point to the crowd during a campaign event Sunday in Celina, Ohio.
Vice President Joe Biden gestures toward a volunteer during a stop at an Obama campaign office in Manchester, N.H., on Sunday.
"The storm will throw havoc into the race," said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.
Obama, preparing to depart for Florida on Sunday, a day early to beat the storm, got an update from disaster relief officials before speaking by phone to affected governors and mayors.
"Anything they need, we will be there," Obama said. "And we are going to cut through red tape. We are not going to get bogged down with a lot of rules. We want to make sure that we are anticipating and leaning forward."
An opportunity for Obama to demonstrate steady leadership in the face of crisis was offset by the risk that the federal government, as in past emergencies, could be faulted for an ineffective response, with the president having to take the fall.
Obama canceled campaign stops today in Virginia and Tuesday in Colorado to monitor the storm, but planned to go forward with other events today in Florida and Ohio, with former President Bill Clinton at his side. He planned to return to Ohio on Wednesday with stops in Cincinnati and Akron, followed by a Thursday swing through Springfield, Ohio; Boulder, Colo.; and Las Vegas.
Romney nixed three stops in up-for-grabs Virginia on Sunday, opting instead to campaign with running mate Paul Ryan in Ohio before heading today to Wisconsin, where Romney has chipped away at Obama's perceived lead in that state.
"Let's today when we get home put in our prayers the people who are in the East Coast in the wake of this big storm that's coming," Ryan said in Celina, Ohio.
Vice President Joe Biden canceled today's event in New Hampshire, and Romney's wife, Ann Romney, called off her events for the day. Campaign staffers planned to collect supplies for Virginia storm victims, and a Republican Party spokesman said Romney's campaign bus would be used for "relief efforts throughout the East Coast."