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US presidential race jolted by looming 'megastorm'

The candidates are forced to cancel some appearances as states of emergency are declared across eight states.

Image: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/Press Association Images

US PRESIDENT BARACK Obama planned to travel to Florida today for a campaign stop as Hurricane Sandy, bearing down on the eastern United States, forced White House candidates to review their schedules.

Republican nominee Mitt Romney has cancelled appearances in Virginia to head for Ohio before the hurricane’s arrival, while Obama moved up his initially planned Monday departure to Florida in order to be back in Washington in time for the storm’s landfall.

The president also has cancelled two campaign events in Virginia and Colorado early next week to monitor developments related to Sandy.

States of emergency have now been declared in eight states. Louis Uccellini, head of environmental prediction for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that Hurricane Sandy is expected to have an impact on 50 to 60 million people.

Emergency workers prepare

Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, cancelled a visit to the battleground state of Virginia to allow law enforcement and emergency workers there to prepare for the advancing storm.

Sandy, which forecasters said could prove to be the most devastating storm in decades, currently is a category one hurricane, with the potential to bring its heavy rains and gusting winds when it makes landfall late Monday or early Tuesday, anywhere from Virginia to New Jersey.

Forecasters predict the hurricane will collide with a seasonal “nor’easter,” creating a supercharged, cold weather system that could burst through the Mid-Atlantic states as far inland as Ohio, in the all important final week before the November 6 election.

Romney and Obama are in a down-to-the-wire battle for the White House, in an election which most national polls have said is too close to call.

The outcome of the vote is expected to hinge on a handful of battleground states where the two contenders also, for the most part, are running within a few percentage points of each other in the polls.

Review of emergency measures

Obama – who also has the task of running the country as he campaigns for re-election – on Saturday reviewed emergency preparations in a conference call with top domestic security and emergency assistance officials Saturday as he flew to New Hampshire for a campaign appearance.

Once in the Granite State, Obama took a swipe at Romney’s record as governor in neighboring Massachusetts.

“Governor Romney has been out here making a lot of last-minute promises lately,” the president told a crowd of 8,500 gathered in front of a school in the city of Nashua.

“Said he’s all about fighting for the middle class. Said he would cut taxes for everybody,” he said. “But the problem is, we heard those promises before.”

Meanwhile at a campaign event in the town of Kissimmee, Florida, Romney urged the crowd to take advantage of the opportunity they have beginning Saturday to cast their ballots.

“Early voting began today. That means today you can go vote, and it helps for you to vote now because the earlier you vote, the more help you can give us to get people to the polls,” he said, adding “we’re going to have to turn out our people.”

The message for the Republican candidate resonated with Luis Maldonado, 38, a Florida electrician, who said he believes Romney can fix the ailing US economy. “I believe in the plans that he has,” he said.

“In the past four years we haven’t seen what we were expecting from the president. I believe he’s going to create more jobs,” Maldonado said.

The start of early voting Saturday in Florida, Maryland, and Washington, DC brought long lines of voters who in some cases wrapped around city blocks.

So far, at least 11 million people have already cast their ballots in states where early voting is underway, according to a tally by experts at George Mason University near Washington.

Analysts said early voting this year is on track to beat the record set in the 2008 presidential elections, when more than 30 percent of ballots were cast before election day.

Electorate pushed to vote early

Both Obama and Romney who are pushing supporters to vote early, now have more reason than ever to do so, with Hurricane Sandy bearing down on a huge area of the country.

Aside from the threat to tens of millions of residents, the storm could up-end election-related preparations across several states, interfere with early voting and cause problems at polling stations.

Both the Romney and Obama campaign received a boost Saturday from coveted newspaper endorsements as the race winds down.

The New York Times “enthusiastically” endorsed President Obama because, among other things, he has achieved the most sweeping health care reforms since 1965, prevented another Great Depression and ended the war in Iraq.

The Des Moines Register in the narrowly fought state of Iowa – one of the most important states to the quadrennial presidential contest – said Romney was better qualified to get the stagnant US economy moving again.

- © AFP, 2012

Additional reporting by Jennifer Wade

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