* Romney cancels Virginia appearances, heads to Ohio
* Sandy's approach raises concerns about early voting
* Reuters/Ipsos national poll remains statistical tie
By Lisa Lambert and Sam Youngman
NASHUA, N.H./PENSACOLA, Fla., Oct 27 President
Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney campaigned
feverishly in closely contested battleground states on Saturday
but changed travel plans to avoid Hurricane Sandy, the massive
storm approaching the U.S. East Coast.
With just 10 days before Election Day and polls showing the
national race a dead heat, Romney was holding three rallies in
Florida, whose 29 electoral votes are the biggest prize among
states considered too close to call.
He told supporters that Obama was focusing his campaign on
small things, and swore he would win the election, to chants of
"Ten more days, 10 more days."
"Look into the future and see the debt that's being amassed
and say, 'What is right for America?' This is a time of big
choices, of big consequence. It's a big election," Romney said.
Obama spent Saturday in New Hampshire, whose handful of just
four electoral votes could play a crucial difference in the
"Ten days, New Hampshire, 10 days and you'll be stepping
into a voting booth and making a defining choice about the
future of our country," the Democratic president told about
8,500 people, in a speech criticizing Romney's record on taxes
and fees as governor of Massachusetts.
New Hampshire is known for its low taxes, and many of its
residents moved away from Massachusetts to cut their tax bills.
Both campaigns were keeping a wary eye on Hurricane Sandy,
which threatened to slam into the eastern third of the country
on Monday or Tuesday with torrential rains, high winds, major
flooding and power outages.
Romney canceled a trip to Virginia scheduled for Sunday,
when the state is expected to begin feeling the impact of the
approaching storm. The candidates are also running neck and neck
He will go instead to Ohio for appearances with Paul Ryan,
his vice presidential running mate. Most polls give Obama a slim
lead in Ohio, which has 18 electoral votes.
Obama rescheduled his departure for campaign dates in
Florida to Sunday night from Monday because of the storm. His
campaign has not yet said whether it would cancel or postpone an
appearance with former President Bill Clinton on Monday in
"We're closely monitoring the storm and will take all
necessary precautions to make sure our volunteers and staff are
safe," Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. "We can't
predict, just as no one can predict, how the storm will impact
With widespread concern that power blackouts in Sandy's wake
could interfere with early balloting, lines at early voting
stations stretched for blocks at some polling stations in
Maryland, which began early voting on Saturday.
Polling sites in Virginia were also busy.
Eager to avoid any complaints that campaigning distracts
from handling a potential natural disaster, the White House
pointed out that Obama was briefed about Hurricane Sandy on
board Air Force One as he traveled to New Hampshire.
"This is an example yet again of the president having to put
his responsibilities as commander in chief and as leader of the
country first while at the same time he pursues his
responsibilities as candidate for election," White House
spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
In such a close election, Obama does not want to be seen
mishandling Sandy. White House officials are keenly aware of the
severe criticism that President George W. Bush received for
failing to react quickly to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
SPRINTING TO A DEAD HEAT?
The two election contenders are in a late sprint to ensure
their supporters get out to the polls and to win over the
dwindling pool of undecided voters in the eight or so
battleground states where the election will be decided.
Obama and Romney remained in a statistical dead heat on
Saturday in the daily Reuters/Ipsos online tracking poll. Obama
led Romney by 47 percent to 45 percent, within the survey's
The poll also showed that support for the candidates was
solidifying. Almost nine out of 10 of registered voters now say
they will definitely vote for their candidate, leaving just 12
percent who say they could change their minds.
In contrast, an average of about 15 percent last week said
they might still switch.
But more and more voters have already taken advantage of
early voting programs and cast their ballots, despite the time
remaining before Election Day. Eighteen percent of respondents
in the Reuters/Ipsos poll said their votes were in.
The U.S. election is not a true national poll, but a
state-by-state contest in which 538 electoral votes are divided
among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., roughly according to
With the majority of states firmly Republican or Democratic,
the fight for the "swing states" not firmly tied to either party
is hugely important.
This year, there is a possibility one candidate could take
enough states to win the electoral vote - and thus the White
House - while trailing in the nationwide popular vote.
That last happened in the bitterly contested election of
2000, when Democrat Al Gore won half a million more votes
nationally than Bush, but the Republican won the presidency
because he ended up with more electoral votes.