With a map of the projected path of Hurricane Sandy behind him, President Barack Obama speaks to the media at Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington, on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012. FEMA is coordinating the deployment of federal resources in preparation for Hurricane Sandy. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Updated: November 30, 2012 6:29AM
WASHINGTON — A monster storm is wrecking the last days of the presidential campaign, forcing President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to revamp their closing strategies.
Both campaigns were using their formidable websites and social media tools to urge supporters to contribute to the Red Cross — a rare unity of purpose and civility that has been otherwise absent in this hard-fought election battle.
Obama spent Sunday partly off the campaign trail, visiting the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters, to check on the progress of Hurricane Sandy, hurling toward the east coast.
News coverage of the campaigns — and likely ad viewings — was diminished because of the storm; that might not have a significant impact at this stage since there is so much effort now from both Romney and Obama teams on the get-out-the-vote ground game.
Obama has the most at stake with the election just a week from Tuesday. If his administration is seen as botching a response to the impending disaster — or if it looks as if he is campaigning instead of working on emergency planning — it could cost him in his close race with Romney.
“My main message to everybody involved is that we have to take this seriously. The federal government is working effectively with the state and local governments. It’s going to be very important that populations in all the impacted states take this seriously, listen to your state and local elected officials,” Obama said at FEMA’s offices.
“My message to the governors, as well as to the mayors, is anything they need, we will be there. And we’re going to cut through red tape. We’re not going to get bogged down with a lot of rules. We want to make sure that we are anticipating and leaning forward into making sure that we’ve got the best possible response to what is going to be a big and messy system.”
Romney’s campaign suspended fund-raising in the states to be hardest hit by the hurricane: Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Jersey and Maryland, as well as the District of Columbia.
“Gov. Romney’s concern is the safety and well being of those in the path of this storm, not political considerations,” Romney spokesman Andrea Saul said.
Obama and Romney — and their spouses and vice presidential running mates — are focused on a handful of battleground states, and Hurricane Sandy forced them to cancel visits in key markets. Both teams were concerned that showing up in an area bracing for a storm would drain the resources of first-responders. The candidates usually also draw on local officials for security.
Obama on Monday was to have stumped in battlegrounds Florida, Ohio and Virginia with former President Bill Clinton, one of the top draws in the Democratic universe. Obama revised his schedule to fly to Orlando on Sunday to be in place for a Monday rally with Clinton — in a state where early voting started on Saturday.
Visiting an Obama for America campaign office on Sunday, Obama told the volunteers he had to head back to Washington because “obviously, my first priority has to be to make sure that everything is in place.”
In turn, that will put a “bit more burden on folks in the field because I’m not going to be able to campaign quite as much over the next couple of days,” Obama said.
Because of the storm, Obama canceled an appearance with Clinton in Prince William County, a Washington suburb. And he scrubbed a stop in Youngstown, Ohio, with Clinton, sending in Vice President Joe Biden as a sub.
To make that work, Biden had to drop an event in battleground New Hampshire, which he would have had to cancel because Hurricane Sandy will be heading that far north.
First lady Michelle Obama was scheduled to spend Sunday night in Chicago; she left the White House on Sunday to get ahead of the hurricane and be in position to stump in Iowa on Monday. She returns to Chicago for Monday night. Her new schedule is a work in progress, with Tuesday stops in New Hampshire and Boston scratched.
An Ann Romney event in New Hampshire on Monday — and another with her husband in the same state — was canceled.
Romney stumps in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis on Monday night, hitting battleground Wisconsin — after stops in Ohio and Iowa — avoiding any problems from Hurricane Sandy. He will headline the West Allis rally at the Expo Center at the State Fair Park.
Romney joined Paul Ryan on an Ohio bus tour Sunday after scuttling his Sunday Virginia stops because of the storm.
Rahm vs. McCain
Mayor Rahm Emanuel defended Obama on Libya and praised him as a decisive leader on Sunday, after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) again accused Obama of either a “massive coverup or massive incompetence” over the Sept. 11 attacks where four Americans were killed.
Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff and McCain, who ran against Obama in 2008, were guests on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” where they represented the Obama and Romney campaigns. Emanuel did the interview from Akron, spending the weekend in Ohio stumping for Obama.