(Photo: Reuters/Brian Snyder)
Despite early voting already in process in several states and Election Day just a short eight days away, both presidential candidates briefly suspended campaign activities as Hurricane Sandy came crashing into the Northeast coast on Monday. But now in the wake of Sandy, will Romney find it an uphill battle to re-engage voters and make his case on why he should be in the White House?
"Any forward momentum Romney had has now been halted. And President Obama's greatest campaign tool, Air Force One, has been grounded for the last two days," Republican strategist Scott Reed told Politico. Reed suggested the center of campaign activity would move to the Midwest and West in the final stretch, "Be prepared for non-stop campaigning the last four or five days."
Since President Obama's disastrous performance in the first presidential debate, Romney's campaign has been on an upward trajectory with only minor diversions, such as his 47 percent gaffe, which didn't slow his momentum much. The most recent Pew Forum poll showed Romney in a virtual dead-heat with President Obama in the most important of all swing states: Ohio.
But Obama may now have an advantage in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. One voter told a local reporter in New Jersey, "If my power comes back on in 24 hours, I can give at least partial credit to President Obama."
Both campaigns suspended political activities within hours of Hurricane Sandy hitting the Eastern coastline. The Obama campaign cancelled appearances by the president in Florida so that he could stay in Washington and oversee FEMA preparations. A press release sent by the Obama campaign around noon on Tuesday said the president was also cancelling campaign stops in Ohio on Wednesday.
While President Obama and Vice President Biden are still in Washington, their campaign has dispatched their most popular surrogate – former President Bill Clinton – to the Colorado cities of Commerce City and Denver.
Meanwhile, Romney chose to spend his downtime raising money for the Red Cross and other relief organizations that would provide services to citizens in the hardest hit areas of New York and New Jersey. He will appear on Tuesday with Randy Owen, the former lead singer for the country rock band Alabama, and NASCAR legend Richard Petty, in a storm relief fundraiser in Kettering, Ohio.
But then on Wednesday, Romney will be back on the campaign trail, appearing with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush at victory rallies in Tampa and Coral Gables. Vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (Wisconsin) will stop in Minnesota today at an airport campaign rally in Minneapolis.
Some of the GOP's best surrogates, however, were tied down in disaster relief operations. In an appearance Tuesday morning on Fox News, reporters attempted to ask New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie about potential visits by Obama or Romney. But an impatient Christie quickly brushed off any further questions regarding VIP visits.
"If you think I care about anything campaign related at the moment, then you don't know me very well," said Christie. "I have a job to do here and that's all I'm thinking about right now."
Nonetheless, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a veteran of storm cleanup, says the campaign may slow down in the northeast but it will be business as usual for other parts of the country.
"It definitely freezes the race on the East Coast," Barbour told reporters, but "in terms of ground game in Wisconsin and Iowa," the campaign will go on.