Hurricane Sandy blew the US presidential race off course on Sunday even before it came ashore, forcing Republican Mitt Romney to shift his campaign inland and fueling fears that the massive storm bearing down on the East Coast could disrupt early voting.
President Barack Obama said on Sunday that he did not expect that Hurricane Sandy would have an impact on voting for the Nov. 6 election but suggested it was something that would have to be examined later.
"We don't anticipate that at this point, but we're obviously going to have to take a look," Obama said during a visit to the government's storm response center when asked whether Hurricane Sandy, bearing down on the East Coast, might affect voting.
Obama during hurricane briefing (Photo: Reuters)
He noted that Sandy is a "serious and big storm" that will be slow-moving and might take time to clear up. The government would "respond big and respond fast" after it hits, he said.
As much of the heavily populated region braced for what could be the largest storm to ever hit the US mainland, Romney re-routed his campaigning from Virginia to Ohio, another of the handful of battleground states that will decide the outcome of the Nov. 6 election.
Satellite photo of Hurricane sandy (Photo: AP)
The storm has forced Obama to reschedule events on Monday and Tuesday.
Tens of thousands of residents were ordered to evacuate coastal areas Sunday as big cities and small towns across the US Northeast braced for the onslaught of a superstorm threatening some 60 million people along the most heavily populated corridor in the nation.
New York City braces for superstorm (Photo: AFP)
New York City announced its subways, buses and trains would stop running Sunday night, and its 1.1 million-student school system would be closed on Monday. Mayor Michael Bloomberg also ordered the evacuation of part of lower Manhattan and other low-lying neighborhoods.
"If you don't evacuate, you are not only endangering your life, you are also endangering the lives of the first responders who are going in to rescue you," Bloomberg said. "This is a serious and dangerous storm."
Officials in the path of the storm scrambled to ensure that extended power outages would not disrupt the early voting that appears to be more important than ever for both sides this year.
Hurricane threatens 60 million (Photo: Reuters)
"Obviously we want unfettered access to the polls because we believe that the more people that come out, the better we'll do," top Obama adviser David Axelrod said on CNN. "I hope that it all clears out and by the next weekend, we'll be free of it."
"It's now a priority, moved up to the same level as hospitals and police stations, to have power restored" at voting facilities, he said.
Most voters made up their minds
The vast majority of voters have made up their minds at this point, and nearly one in five have already cast their ballots. But the storm could throw a wrench in the campaigns' efforts to drive voters to the polls in the final days before the election.
Opinion polls show the race to be essentially tied at the national level, but Obama retains a slim advantage in many of the battleground states that will decide the election.
A Washington Post poll released on Sunday found Obama leading Romney by 51 percent to 47 percent in Virginia, just outside the poll's margin of error.
In Ohio, a poll by a group of newspapers found the two tied at 49 percent each. Other polls have shown Obama ahead there.
AP and Reuters contributed to this report
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