* Obama leads in Virginia, poll shows
* Storm's impact could be significant
* Romney wins big endorsement in Iowa
By Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON, Oct 28 Hurricane Sandy blew the U.S.
presidential race off course on Sunday even before it came
ashore, forcing Republican Mitt Romney to shift his campaign
inland and fueling fears that the massive storm bearing down on
the East Coast could disrupt an election that is already under
As he juggled his governing duties with his re-election
effort, President Barack Obama said the heavily populated East
Coast could face power failures and other disruptions for
"Don't anticipate that just because the immediate storm has
passed that we're not going to have some potential problems in a
lot of these communities going forward through the week," Obama
said after a visit to the federal government's storm-response
Romney rerouted his campaign from Virginia to join his vice
presidential running mate Paul Ryan in Ohio, one of the handful
of battleground states that will decide the outcome of the Nov.
"You are the battleground of battlegrounds. You get to
decide," Ryan told a crowd of 1,000 people who were not able to
join 2,000 others in a high school gymnasium in Celina, Ohio.
Obama later flew to Florida for a campaign stop. Like
Romney, he canceled events in Virginia, a battleground state
that could bear the brunt of the storm's impact. Obama canceled
plans to campaign in Ohio after Monday's event in Florida,
opting to return to the White House instead.
"I'm not going to be able to campaign quite as much over the
next couple of days," Obama told volunteers at a local campaign
office in Orlando late on Sunday. "So you guys gotta carry the
ball!" he said to cheers.
Both campaigns also canceled events in New Hampshire, which
could face high winds and heavy rain.
"The last thing the president and I want to do is get in the
way of anything. The most important thing is people's safety and
people's health," Vice President Joe Biden told campaign
volunteers in Manchester, New Hampshire, before leaving for
Officials in the path of the storm scrambled to ensure that
extended power outages would not disrupt the early voting that
appears to be critical for both candidates this year.
Obama said he did not think the storm would impact voting,
but some on his campaign staff were not so certain.
"Obviously we want unfettered access to the polls because we
believe that the more people that come out, the better we'll
do," top Obama adviser David Axelrod said on CNN.
Republican Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell said his state
plans to extend early voting hours and restore power quickly to
election facilities in the event of outages.
Officials in neighboring Maryland said early voting stations
would close on Monday.
WINDS OF UNCERTAINTY
The looming storm threw another note of uncertainty into a
race that remains a statistical dead heat.
The vast majority of voters have made up their minds at this
point, and more than one in five have already cast their
ballots. But the storm could throw a wrench in the campaigns'
efforts to drive voters to the polls in the final days before
the election and will require them to ensure that their armies
of door-knocking volunteers stay safe.
An extended power outage could sideline millions of dollars
worth of television advertising that is set to saturate the
airwaves in the final days of the race.
It also scrambles their efforts to schedule rallies in the
handful of states that are likely to decide the outcome.
"The poll numbers aren't changing that much and I don't
think the storm is going to change that dynamic. It's just going
to present logistical challenges for the campaign," Hunter
College political science professor Jamie Chandler said.
A severe disruption could hurt Obama more than Romney
because his campaign has counted on early voting to lock up the
support of those who may be less likely to vote on Election Day,
Officials from both campaigns said they were confident they
would be able to get their message out and drive voters to the
polls over the coming days. But they recognized that, after
years of obsessive planning and nearly $2 billion in campaign
expenditures, the storm had introduced a last-minute element of
"There's certain things we can't control and nature is one
of them. We try to focus on the things that we can control,"
Romney adviser Kevin Madden told reporters.
There is some evidence that natural disasters can hurt an
incumbent's re-election chances as voters often blame whoever is
in office for adversity.
Research by Larry Bartels of Vanderbilt University and
Christopher Achen of Princeton University found that Vice
President Al Gore may have lost the election in 2000 because of
severe drought and excessive rainfall in seven states.
Bush's approval ratings plummeted after Hurricane Katrina
devastated New Orleans in 2005, and voters could similarly blame
Obama if the government fumbles its response to this storm.
But there are also dangers for Romney, who will have to be
careful to avoid being seen as politicizing the disaster. His
campaign's hasty response to the attacks on U.S. diplomatic
missions in the Middle East in September was widely criticized.
The Obama campaign said it would suspend fundraising e-mails
in the mid-Atlantic region on Monday and encouraged supporters
to donate to the Red Cross.
Opinion polls show the race to be essentially tied at the
A Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll released on Sunday found Obama
leading Romney among likely voters by 49 percent to 46 percent,
within the online survey's credibility interval. Among all
registered voters, Obama held a wider lead of 51 percent to 39
However, Obama retains a slim advantage in many of the
battleground states that will decide the election.
A Washington Post poll released on Sunday found Obama
leading Romney by 51 percent to 47 percent in Virginia, just
outside the poll's margin of error.
In Ohio, a poll by a group of newspapers found the two tied
at 49 percent each. Other polls have shown Obama ahead there.
Romney received the endorsement of Iowa's largest newspaper,
the Des Moines Register, which has not backed a Republican since
1972. He also won the endorsement of newspapers in Richmond and
Obama won the endorsement of newspapers in Miami, Detroit
and Toledo, Ohio, as well as The New York Times.