"Sandy is another devastating hurricane by all accounts, and a lot of people are going to be facing some real tough times as a result of Sandy's fury," Romney said at a campaign stop in Ohio. He also planned to stop in swing state Iowa before standing down as the storm was predicted to make landfall Monday night.
Romney urged the Ohio crowd to make a contribution to Red Cross or other relief agency "in any way you can imagine to help those in harm's way," then added a political footnote.
"I know the people of the Atlantic coast are counting on Ohio and the rest of our states," Romney said. "But also I think the people of the entire nation are counting on Ohio because my guess is that if Ohio votes me in as president, I'll be the next president of the United States."
Obama rushed out of battleground Florida Monday morning ahead of a planned rally and called off Tuesday's trip to Wisconsin. Obama's plans to campaign Wednesday in Ohio were still on, though campaign officials said they were evaluating travel plans on an almost hourly basis.
Four critical election states are affected by the storm — North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio and New Hampshire.
Polls suggest Obama has an advantage in reaching the required 270 Electoral College votes. But Romney's campaign is projecting momentum and considering trying to expand the playing field beyond the nine states that have garnered the bulk of the candidates' attention.
While the impact of the storm had yet to be seen, at the very least it was a distraction as both sides were looking to make their final appeals and millions of ballots were already being cast in early voting. It threatened to dilute Romney's efforts to close the deal with voters while giving Obama a platform to show leadership in the time of crisis. And power outages could end up cutting off their message in television ads and automatic phone calls in the eastern swing states.