WASHINGTON - Huge swaths of the U.S. East Coast are being pelted by one of the biggest storms ever to approach the mainland, just more than a week before Americans vote for president and pick a new Congress. Hurricane Sandy has forced the cancellation of campaign events and could leave millions of Americans without power as they prepare to cast ballots.
?Hurricane Sandy is unleashing powerful winds and torrential rains from the Carolinas to New York. In coming days, the storm’s impact will likely be felt from the U.S. mid-Atlantic region into Canada. While U.S. airwaves are filled with political advertisements before the election, many voters have a more immediate concern.
“I am really nervous about this [storm]," a woman said. "I really am. I am cooking. I am thinking we are not going to eat for the next six days.”
Sandy is expected to join with two winter storm systems to form what forecasters have termed a hybrid "superstorm" spanning 1,200 kilometers, affecting up to 60-million residents.
President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, former Governor Mitt Romney, have cancelled campaign events in the critical battleground state of Virginia, where early voting is already underway. Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner spoke on the U.S. television program Fox News Sunday.
Watch President Obama discuss the approach of Hurricane Sandy
“We do not have as extensive an early voting in Virginia as other states. The storm will throw a little bit of havoc into the race. I was supposed to be with the president [Obama] and [former] President Clinton on Monday. That rally has been cancelled. But I think Virginians are ready to go to the polls.”
?Obama campaign officials say the president’s immediate focus is on the well-being of Americans in Sandy’s path. Obama Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter appeared on ABC’s This Week program.
“Of course, we are all hoping that the hurricane does not have huge consequences for people’s safety," said Cutter. "We have taken every precaution that we possibly can. The president took down a couple of [campaign] stops so he could monitor the situation. So we just have to see how this goes.”
Recent weeks have seen Mitt Romney erase the president’s lead in the polls, both nationally and in many pivotal swing-states. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio said the momentum is on Romney’s side.
“Polls are closing [narrowing], and the energy and enthusiasm is on our side this year,” he said.
That message was echoed by former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who appeared on This Week.
“In Ohio, we [Republicans] clearly have gained ground," he said. "I doubt very much that Obama is going to carry Virginia.”
A loss in both states would, indeed, be a severe blow to President Obama’s re-election hopes. But Democrats say they are not panicking, arguing that Democrats are already voting early in record numbers.
“In many cases, we are beating Mitt Romney three-to-one in the early vote. Our people are turning out, and they are turning out in very high numbers," said Stephanie Cutter. "We feel good about Ohio, we feel we are going to win it.”
What no one can predict is Sandy's impact on the desire and ability of tens of millions of Americans to vote, and just how, if at all, that will affect the outcome on November 6.