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Obama campaign worries storm could impact turnout

29 october 2012, 13:45
President Barack Obama's jittery campaign voiced fears Sunday that Hurricane Sandy could hurt his re-election chances by reducing turnout, as the storm forced both candidates to cancel campaign stops, AFP reports.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney received good news in two key swing states, winning the endorsement in Iowa of the main newspaper, the Des Moines Register, and tying Obama in a newly-released poll in all-important Ohio.

But nine days out from the nailbiter November 6 election, all eyes were on Hurricane Sandy and how the potentially catastrophic storm might play out on the neck-and-neck race for the White House.

"Obviously we want unfettered access to the polls because we believe that the more people come out, the better we're going to do," senior Obama strategist David Axelrod told CNN.

"And so to the extent that it makes it harder, you know, that's a source of concern," he said.

Democrats desperately need to rally Obama supporters and get them out to vote as Romney surged ahead in national polls following a commanding first debate victory on October 3 and his momentum shows little sign of evaporating.

With the storm due to hit late Monday or early Tuesday, the rivals scrambled to revamp their schedules in the hectic final stretch of a campaign that has seen them criss-cross the main battlegrounds on a near-daily basis.

Romney canceled appearances in Virginia to head for Ohio before the hurricane's arrival, while Obama moved up his planned departure to Florida in order to be back in Washington before the storm makes landfall.

As the storm drowned out media coverage of campaign issues, Obama faced a key test of his leadership under the glare of the election spotlight, raising the stakes on his decision-making on the eve of the cliffhanger election.

After attending a church service in Washington as usual on Sunday morning, the president was briefed at the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on storm assistance preparations.

"This is a serious and big storm. And my first message is to all people across the eastern seaboard, mid-Atlantic going north, you need to take this very seriously," he said.

"Follow the instructions of your state and local officials because they are going to be providing you with the best advice in terms of how to deal with this storm over the coming days."

Republican party chairman Reince Priebus hit back at claims from Democrats that Romney's momentum was leveling off and argued that key states like Ohio and Wisconsin were beginning to swing towards the challenger.

Democrats normally do better at early voting and Obama's get-out-the-vote effort in 2008 was phenomenal but Priebus told "Fox News Sunday" that things were different this time around.

"They're not where they were in 2008. We're far ahead of where we were in 2008. Our ground game is better than their ground game. We are going to do more voter contacts this year than all of 2008 and all of 2004 combined. We have an army on the ground," he said.

Forecasters predict Sandy will collide with a seasonal "nor'easter," creating a supercharged, cold weather system that could burst through the Mid-Atlantic as far inland as Ohio, just days before the country votes.

"The storm will throw havoc into the race," Democratic Virginia Senator Mark Warner told "Fox News Sunday," as coastal evacuations were ordered and forecasters warned that millions could potentially be affected by flooding.

Senior adviser Kevin Madden told reporters that the Romney campaign had got its message across already to those in the hurricane's path and said the safety of voters and their families was now the priority.

"I wouldn't even want to even trivialize it by talking about the state of the race when you have so many people right now that are going to be adversely impacted by the storm," he said.

Both campaigns announced that they would stop sending fundraising emails to those states likely to be affected by the storm.

The start of early voting Saturday in Florida, Maryland, and Washington brought long lines of voters who in some cases wrapped around city blocks.

So far, at least 12.3 million people have cast their ballots, according to a tally by experts at George Mason University near Washington.

But Hurricane Sandy was already making its presence felt and Governor Martin O'Malley announced that early voting in Maryland would be cancelled statewide on Monday due to the storm. Other states could be poised to follow.

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