, PENSACOLA, Florida, Oct 27 – A looming “Frankenstorm” threw an October surprise into the US presidential contest Saturday as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney hunted for votes amid fears of major disruptions ahead of the November 6 vote.
With Hurricane Sandy now stalking the US East Coast, Romney and Vice President Joe Biden cancelled rallies in Virginia to get out of the way of frantic storm preparations.
The president and his Republican rival were campaigning at opposite ends of the eastern seaboard Saturday — Obama in New Hampshire and Romney in Florida — while their campaigns kept an eagle eye on the coming storm.
Obama, who made no changes in his campaign schedule, reviewed emergency preparations in a conference call with top domestic security and emergency assistance officials Saturday as he flew to New Hampshire, the White House said.
“This an example yet again of the president having to put his responsibilities as commander-in-chief and leader of the country first while at the same time he pursues his responsibilities as a candidate for re-election,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on the flight.
Currently a category one hurricane, Sandy was forecast to ride slowly up the Atlantic coastline, bringing heavy rains and gusting winds to the Carolinas, before making landfall early this week somewhere between Virginia and New Jersey.
Forecasters predict the storm will collide with a seasonal “nor’easter,” creating a supercharged cold weather system that could burst through the Mid-Atlantic states as far inland as Ohio.
Huge tidal surges, power outages, inland flooding and even heavy snowfall could then be in store for the final, frantic week of the US election campaign, adding a nasty twist to what already is a neck and neck race.
Governors, anticipating the worst, declared states of emergency in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, the US capital Washington and a coastal county in North Carolina.
Aside from the threat to tens of millions of residents, the storm could upend election-related preparations across several states, interfere with early voting and cause problems at polling stations.
Both Obama and Romney were pushing supporters to vote early. So far, 10.5 million people have already cast their ballots, according to a count by experts at George Mason University near Washington.
That is about eight percent of all votes cast in 2008, and analysts said the early voting was on track to beat the record set in the last presidential elections when more than 30 percent of ballots were cast before election day.
Prospective voters have been deluged with calls from the rival campaigns, with 40 percent of voters in eight key battleground states contacted by the Obama camp and 35 percent by Romney’s get-out-the-vote operation, according to a Washington Post/ABC News survey published Friday.