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Sandy disrupts campaigns with 7 days to go

WASHINGTON -- Superstorm Sandy disrupted the presidential race as President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney both canceled campaign events, punching holes in their carefully mapped out strategies for the final week of one of the closest presidential contests in recent history.

Seven days before the election, both men and their running mates tempered their campaigns for Tuesday, eager not to appear out of sync with more immediate worries over flooding, power outages, economic calamity and personal safety. Neither Obama nor Vice President Joe Biden planned to campaign Tuesday. Romney was going forward with a planned event in Ohio, but his campaign said its focus would be storm relief.

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.

Obama shifted promptly from campaign mode to governing, abandoning a Florida event Monday morning with former President Bill Clinton to return to Washington. Displaying authority like only an incumbent can, he received a briefing from his top emergency advisers, his second in so many days. He then addressed reporters at the White House, insisting that the public follow the directives of their local officials and warning that recovery from the giant storm would not be swift.

Obama voiced concern over the storm's effect on the economy, and the disruptions in New York's Wall Street region were bound to be among those that preoccupied the administration Tuesday. Storm damage was projected at US$10 billion to US$20 billion, making it one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.

Unwilling to cede the mantle of leadership to Obama, Romney spoke by phone to Deputy FEMA Administrator Richard Serino and officials from the Homeland Security Department and the National Weather Service. Addressing supporters in Davenport, Iowa, he cautioned, like Obama, that the damage would likely be significant and that outages would last long.

In the competition for attention, Obama held the edge, however. “This is going to be a big storm,” he warned, as cable television broke off to carry his message live. “It's going to be a difficult storm. The great thing about America is when we go through tough times like this we all pull together.”

Such is the advantage of incumbency, provided things don't go wrong. The potential for debacle was clearly on the minds of White House officials as the storm made its furious landfall in New Jersey Monday evening and pounced on New York.

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U.S. President Barack Obama steps off Air Force One upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, Monday. Obama canceled his appearance at a campaign rally in Orlando, Florida and returned early to Washington, D.C. to monitor response to Hurricane Sandy. (AFP)

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