The arrival of Hurricane Sandy one week before Election Day has forced both presidential campaigns to shuffle schedules, but the massive “Frankenstorm” has particularly complicated the final push by Team Obama, cutting into the president’s campaign time and raising concerns among his advisers over voter turnout — especially in deadlocked Virginia.
“Obviously we want unfettered access to the polls because we believe that the more people come out, the better we’re going to do, and so to the extent that it makes it harder, you know, that’s a source of concern,” senior Obama adviser David Axelrod said on CNN on Sunday.
Extended power outages could also hurt voter turnout in Pennsylvania, where Mr. Obama’s lead has shrunk to slightly less than 5 points in the latest Real Clear Politics average, and in swing-state New Hampshire, where Mitt Romney has campaigned relentlessly in hopes of grabbing the Granite State’s four electoral votes.
After a briefing Sunday at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s headquarters in Washington on the massive storm’s path and scope, Mr. Obama told reporters the federal government will “respond big and respond fast.”
The president talked about the prospects of prolonged power outages on the Eastern Seaboard.
“The other thing that makes this storm unique is we anticipate that it is going to be slow moving. That means that it may take a long time not only to clear, but also to get, for example, the power companies back in to clear trees and to put things back in place so that folks can start moving back home.”
He promised federal resources would be made readily available to state and local governments.
“My message to the governors, as well as to the mayors, is: ‘Anything they need, we will be there.’ And we’re going to cut through red tape. We’re not going to get bogged down with a lot of rules. We want to make sure that we are anticipating and leaning forward into making sure that we’ve got the best possible response to what is going to be a big and messy system.”
Some Republicans said the president could polish leadership credentials tarnished by the controversy over the administration’s response to the Libyan consulate attacks of Sept. 11 by returning to Washington and taking charge during the storm.
“The president of the United States is the commander in chief. The American people look to him, and I’m sure he will conduct himself and play his leadership role in a fine fashion. So I would imagine that might help him a little bit,” said Arizona Sen. John McCain on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “But I’m not sure it will affect votes.”
The massive storm, expected to make landfall in New Jersey late Monday or early Tuesday, prompted both campaigns to cancel scheduled events in Virginia and New Hampshire.
Mitt Romney’s campaign scrapped Sunday appearances in Virginia’s Haymarket and in Richmond after pulling the plug on a scheduled Sunday evening rally in Virginia Beach out of concern about interfering with public safety efforts.
The Obama camp canceled an event in Ohio and a planned Northern Virginia rally so that Mr. Obama could return to the White House to oversee storm preparations. The president had planned to campaign Monday in Prince William County with former President Bill Clinton.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden held a rally in Lynchburg, Va., on Saturday, but canceled a Virginia Beach event scheduled for later in the day.
Polls show the two candidates running neck and neck in Virginia.