2012 ELECTION

Sandy upends final week of presidential campaign

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KETTERING, Ohio (AP/WJLA) - Superstorm Sandy is upending the final week of the presidential race, with President Barack Obama calling off another campaign day to tour ravaged New Jersey and Republican Mitt Romney struggling to strike the right tone as he tries to close the deal with voters.

The White House announced Tuesday that Obama will not go ahead with a Wednesday campaign swing through Ohio and later said he would tour damage in New Jersey. He plans to remain in Washington to monitor recovery efforts for the storm that practically shut down New York City and spread damage across the East Coast.

Obama visited the American Red Cross near the White House on Tuesday to encourage donations and warned the storm was not done making its impact. He tried to show leadership in only the way a president can, saying he told federal authorities to cut through all red tape to get help to affected areas. "There is no excuse for inaction," he said.

Obama said he had a conference call with affected governors and mayors told them if issues arise "they can call me personally at the White House."

Romney and running mate Paul Ryan initially announced they were canceling events out of sensitivity for the millions of Americans in Sandy's path. But with only a week left to try to toss Obama from office, the GOP campaign was back on Tuesday with events in the critical Midwestern swing states of Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin, albeit with changes to the program.

"We have heavy hearts, as you know, with all the suffering going on, in a major part of our country," Romney said before helping collect food donations for relief efforts. "A lot of people hurting this morning, they were hurting last night. And the storm goes on."

Romney spoke for less than five minutes and avoided politics at what his campaign billed as a "storm relief event" in the same Ohio gymnasium as his previously scheduled political rally and with the same entertainment from country music singer Randy Owen. The event was moved up four hours and there were none of the usual attacks on the president, who was at the White House overseeing the response.

Effusive praise for Obama's leadership came in Tuesday from a surprising source - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who has been campaigning for Romney across the country and who is a pointed Obama critic. He said in a series of morning television show interviews that Obama was in touch throughout the night as the storm struck New Jersey, including a call at midnight, and effectively expedited much-needed disaster relief.

"The president has been all over this and he deserves great credit," Christie told MSNBC's "Morning Joe." ''I've been on the phone with him, like I said, yesterday personally three times. He gave me his number at the White House, told me to call him if I need anything, and he absolutely means it. It's been very good working with the president."

The White House released a photo of the president receiving an update on the response from the Situation Room. Vice President Joe Biden participated in the video-conference from Ohio, where he spent part of the day holding up in a Columbus hotel before flying to Florida to resume campaign events Wednesday.

As he boarded his plane, Biden said it was unclear when Obama would return to campaigning and brushed off a question about the impact on the election. "Honest to God, I don't think anyone's thought about that," Biden said.

The president's campaign also tried to rise above the political fray in an email to supporters asking for donation to the Red Cross. "Soon enough we'll need to get back to work on the most important campaign of our lifetime," wrote campaign manager Jim Messina. "But the most important thing at this moment is that you and your loved ones are staying safe, and that the rest of us do what we can to help speed the recovery."

Millions were left without power as the deadly storm whipped its way through presidential battlegrounds like North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire and sprawled as far as the Great Lakes, where gales threatened Ohio's and Wisconsin's lakeside regions.

Some election centers in the affected states were shut down, but early voting continued in areas outside Sandy's path. Ryan sent an email to supporters in Ohio Tuesday, asking them to take advantage of early voting "to help keep our momentum going."

Romney helped collect grocery bags of donations from lined-up supporters after his brief remarks in Ohio, then headed outside to load bottled water, boxes of diapers and pallets of canned goods on a rented truck for delivery.

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