Big storm scrambles presidential race schedules

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Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gestures during a campaign speech Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, in Land O' Lakes, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

LAND O'LAKES, Fla. (AP) — The big storm taking aim at the East Coast a little more than a week before the election has scrambled campaign plans, with both candidates canceling events and President Barack Obama moving up his departure for Florida to beat the storm.

In an extraordinarily tight race, Hurricane Sandy has forced Obama and Republican Mitt Romney to toss out carefully mapped-out itineraries as the candidates work to maximize voter turnout while avoiding any suggestion they were putting politics ahead of public safety. Romney canceled plans to campaign in Virginia on Sunday, opting instead to join running mate Paul Ryan in Ohio.

"The storm will throw havoc into the race," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said on "Fox News Sunday," noting that a Monday rally with Obama and former President Bill Clinton has already been canceled.

David Axelrod, a top adviser to Obama's campaign, said it was impossible to predict how the storm would affect the election but acknowledged it could drive down turnout to Obama's detriment.

"Obviously, we want unfettered access to the polls, because we think the more people that come out, the better we're going to do," Axelrod said on CNN's "State of the Union." ''And so, to the extent that it makes it harder, that's a source of concern."

On Saturday, Romney was in Florida speaking of bipartisanship, while Obama tried to nail down New Hampshire's four electoral votes.

The former Massachusetts governor presented himself as a staunch conservative during the Republican primaries but has struck a more moderate tone as he appeals for support from women and independent voters. He promised to "build bridges" with Democrats.

Romney coupled his message with digs at Obama for "shrinking from the magnitude of the times" and advancing an agenda that lacks vision.

Obama, heading to Florida on Sunday night rather than Monday as first planned, spoke with volunteers at a Teamsters hall in Manchester, N.H., on Saturday. "We don't know how this thing is going to play out. These four electoral voters right here could make all the difference."

Winning the White House takes 270 electoral votes. Obama is ahead in states and the District of Columbia representing 237 electoral votes; Romney has a comfortable lead in states with 191 electoral votes. The rest lie in nine contested states that remain too close to call.

The president adjusted his campaign speech at a Nashua rally to appeal to voters in low-tax New Hampshire, hammering Romney for raising taxes and fees when he led Massachusetts.

Obama accused Romney of running in Massachusetts on a pledge to lower taxes, then making life more expensive for the middle class after taking office.

"All he's offering is a big rerun of the same policies," Obama said.

The candidates worked to lock down every possible early vote without intruding on emergency preparations as the storm's expected track looked to affect at least four of the most competitive states: New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.

Obama canceled appearances in Prince William County, Va., on Monday, and Colorado Springs, Colo., on Tuesday so he could monitor Hurricane Sandy.

He moved the departure for Florida to beat the storm and planned a Monday stop in Youngstown, Ohio, before returning to Washington.

Instead of campaigning in Virginia as scheduled, Romney was set to join Ryan for three stops of his Ohio bus tour. Romney's trip to Florida was timed to coincide with the first day of in-person early voting in a state where 29 electoral votes are up for grabs.

Vice President Joe Biden canceled a Saturday rally in coastal Virginia Beach, Va., to allow officials there to focus on disaster preparedness and local security concerns. But he went ahead with an appearance in Lynchburg, which is inland.

Biden said Romney and Ryan are fleeing from their record to appear more moderate than they are. The Republican nominees, Biden said, "are counting on the American people to have an overwhelming case of amnesia."