Hurricane looms over sprint to US election
Romney cancelled appearances in Virginia, while Obama moved up his departure to Florida. -AFP
Hurricane Sandy, bearing down on US shores, left its mark on the presidential race on Saturday, as President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney scrambled to get their campaigns out of the massive storm's path.
Romney cancelled appearances in Virginia to head for Ohio ahead of the hurricane's arrival, while Obama moved up his departure to Florida - one of a handful of states where early voting got under way on Saturday.
The president was scheduled to travel to Florida late on Sunday for a rally that takes place on Monday.
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 sometime next week 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 Nov 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.
Obama - who also has the task of running the country as he campaigns for re-election - reviewed emergency preparations in a conference call with top domestic security and emergency assistance officials on Saturday as he flew to New Hampshire for a campaign appearance.
"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 on 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 on 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 under way, 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 per cent of ballots were cast before election day.
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