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Obama Campaign Fears Impact of Hurricane Sandy

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A top aide to Barack Obama voiced fears Sunday that Hurricane Sandy could hurt the president's re-election chances by reducing turnout, as the impending storm forced both candidates to cancel campaign stops.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney received good news in two key swing states, winning the endorsement in Iowa of the main newspaper, the Des Moines Register, and tying Obama in a newly-released poll in all-important Ohio.

But nine days out from the nailbiter November 6 election, all eyes were on Hurricane Sandy and how the potentially catastrophic storm might play out on the neck-and-neck race for the White House.

"Obviously we want unfettered access to the polls because we believe that the more people come out, the better we're going to do," senior Obama strategist David Axelrod told CNN.

"And so to the extent that it makes it harder, you know, that's a source of concern," he said.

Democrats desperately need to rally Obama supporters as Romney surged into the lead in national polls following a commanding first debate victory on October 3 and his momentum shows little sign of evaporating.

With the storm due to hit late Monday or early Tuesday, Obama and Romney scrambled to revamp their schedules in the hectic final stretch of a campaign that has seen them criss-cross the main battlegrounds on a near-daily basis.

Romney canceled appearances in Virginia to head for Ohio before the hurricane's arrival, while Obama moved up his planned departure to Florida in order to be back in Washington in time for the storm's landfall.

After attending a church service in Washington as usual on Sunday morning, the president headed to the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a briefing on storm assistance preparations.

"The storm will throw havoc into the race," Democratic Virginia Senator Mark Warner told "Fox News Sunday," as coastal evacuations were ordered in New Jersey and New York and forecasters warned of millions being affected by flooding.

As the storm drowned out media coverage of campaign issues, Obama faced a key test of his leadership under the glare of the election spotlight, raising the stakes on his decision-making on the eve of the cliffhanger election.

Republican party chairman Reince Priebus hit back at claims from Democrats that Romney's momentum was leveling off and argued that key states like Ohio and Wisconsin were beginning to swing towards the challenger.

Democrats normally do better at early voting and Obama's get-out-the-vote effort in 2008 was phenomenal but Priebus told "Fox News Sunday" that things were different this time around.

"They're not where they were in 2008. We're far ahead of where we were in 2008. Our ground game is better than their ground game. We are going to do more voter contacts this year than all of 2008 and all of 2004 combined. We have an army on the ground," he said.

Forecasters predict Sandy will collide with a seasonal "nor'easter," creating a supercharged, cold weather system that could burst through the Mid-Atlantic as far inland as Ohio, just days before the country votes.

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.

The latest poll from a consortium of Ohio newspapers on Sunday showed that race all tied up, 49 percent to 49 percent, but it was conducted October 18-23 and may not be the absolutely latest snapshot.

Another poll showed Obama clinging to a four-point lead in Virginia, a state now seen as a tie that the president had led by a clear margin before his disastrous first debate performance.

Campaigning in the must-win state of Florida on Saturday, Romney pleaded for supporters there to set him on the path for a come-from-behind White House victory that seemed a long-shot only a few weeks ago.

"Early voting began today," he said. "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.

The message for the Republican candidate resonated with Luis Maldonado, 38, a Florida electrician, who said he believes Romney can fix the ailing U.S. economy.

"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 of Romney.

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

So far, at least 12.3 million people have cast their ballots, according to a tally by experts at George Mason University near Washington.

But Hurricane Sandy was already making its presence felt and Governor Martin O'Malley announced that early voting in Maryland would be canceled statewide on Monday due to the storm. Other states could be poised to follow.

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