President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney were forced to disrupt their campaign schedules Monday, with Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the U.S. east coast only a week left before election day.
Obama cancelled a rally in Florida to return to Washington to monitor storm preparations and response, and scotched a Tuesday trip to Wisconsin.
"I'm not worried about the effect on the election," he told reporters during a rare appearance in the White House briefing room.
"I'm worried about the impact on families and on our first responders. I'm worried about the impact on the economy and on transportation. The election will take care of itself next week."
Romney cancelled events scheduled for Monday and Tuesday "out of sensitivity for the millions of Americans in the path of Hurricane Sandy."
"Governor Romney believes this is a time for the nation and its leaders to come together to focus on those Americans who are in harm's way," the campaign said in a statement.
Obama urged people to heed the local officials imploring residents in the storm's path to seek shelter and, in lowlying or other unsafe areas, to evacuate to avoid putting themselves and emergency responders in danger.
In an earlier email to supporters, Romney called urged people to take precautions, including removing yard signs in support of his campaign that could become hazardous wind-blown projectiles. He urged residents to take care of their neighbours.
His campaign bus had been put to use delivering emergency supplies in Virginia, a spokesman said on Twitter.
US financial markets will remain closed Tuesday for a second session due to the severe weather in the New York area.
Obama must balance the need to rally his supporters for the November 6 elections with his role as president in the face of a potential disaster.
Former president George W Bush saw just how damaging politically storm responses could be in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when the federal government appeared slow to respond to the catastrophe.
Obama has already signed federal disaster declarations for states awaiting the brunt of the storm - including New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York - freeing federal aid and money to local and state governments.
"The president's focus is on the storm and governing the country and making sure people are safe," campaign manager Jim Messina told reporters.
Despite the impact on early voting in several key states, he said the campaign believed they'd be able to turn out voters in the coming days.
"There's time for politics, but right now we have to focus on what we are doing on the storm," he said.
Vice President Joe Biden remained on the campaign trail in Ohio with former president Bill Clinton.
The race remains in a dead heat, with Romney in a slight lead nationwide and polls within the margins of error in many key swing states.
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