By Amie Parnes and Justin Sink - 10/30/12 03:06 PM EDT
Hurricane Sandy has left more than 7.5 million people without power on the East Coast and thrown both presidential candidates off their schedule just one week from Election Day.
New York and New Jersey bore the brunt of the powerful storm, which knocked out power and could leave New York City’s subway system stalled for a week.
Sandy presented particular problems for Romney, who has had momentum in the fight for the White House. While Obama traveled to Washington to direct federal relief operations, Romney announced he and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would participate in “storm relief” events.
A new NPR poll released Tuesday found Romney with a 1-point lead over Obama nationally, while a Pew Research poll found the candidates tied. How the storm will affect the tight race is at the forefront for both campaigns.
Obama was updated on Sandy’s path throughout the night, White House officials said Tuesday morning. The president spoke by phone to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Jersey City Mayor Jeremiah Healy and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a White House official said.
On Tuesday, the president also held a video-conference in the White House Situation Room to receive updates on recovery efforts from federal emergency officials. During the briefing, Obama “expressed his concern for those impacted by the storm, as well as the heroic first responders who are selflessly putting themselves in harm’s way to protect members of their communities,” according to a readout of the call.
The president said he would continue to speak with affected state and local officials throughout the day to follow relief efforts, according to the statement.
The White House also said that Obama would remain in Washington on Wednesday and would not participate in campaign events he was slated to attend in Ohio.
Romney will attend an event in Kettering, Ohio, with race car driver Richard Petty and country musician Randy Travis, with the campaign saying attendees would be asked to bring disaster relief supplies to the event. A Republican source said Romney may speak at the event, although it would be tailored to exclude customary swipes at Obama.
The Virginia Republican Party also announced that Romney would travel to the storm-battered state Thursday afternoon for an event near the Kings Dominion theme park between Richmond and Fredericksburg. The event is the first announced by a candidate from either side in one of the areas affected by the hurricane.
On Tuesday morning, his campaign confirmed that he would attend two additional events in Virginia on Thursday.
Romney had planned to campaign in Virginia over the weekend, but scrapped those plans ahead of the storm.
Ryan was scheduled to visit swing-state Colorado on Tuesday, but has instead returned to his home state of Wisconsin. Ryan will stop by Romney campaign offices in La Crosse and Hudson to speak with volunteers and thank them for their storm-relief work. Ann Romney, the candidate’s wife, will visit campaign offices in Iowa to help collect donations for the recovery.
Other surrogates will be out on the stump, with President Bill Clinton headlining two rallies for Obama in Minnesota and another pair in Colorado on Tuesday.
Obama’s aides, cautious of how natural disasters can hurt a presidency, say his priority is to remain in Washington and monitor the storm’s aftermath.
“Good government is gonna be good politics,” said Steve Elmendorf, who served as deputy campaign manager for John Kerry’s presidential bid. “He has to spend as much time as necessary making sure the federal government is responsive and on top of the issues in the affected states.”
Aides to the Romney campaign stressed that the Republican presidential nominee's primary concern was also those in the path of the storm, and declined to comment on the nominee's post-storm political strategy.
But the presidential campaign began to grind back to life Tuesday morning. Ann Romney was slated to officially break the campaign's temporary suspension Tuesday night at a rally in Iowa. The candidate himself had originally been scheduled to headline the event.
The campaign also confirmed that vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan would resume campaigning in his home state of Wisconsin on Wednesday, with a trio of rallies across the state. And while the Romney campaign would not confirm the stop on Tuesday morning, local media outlets in Tampa, Fla., were reporting that the candidate had scheduled a Wednesday morning rally with Florida U.S. Senate candidate Connie Mack in Tampa. Supporters could register for tickets to the event from a link on the candidate's website.
Meanwhile, in Ohio, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — who was originally slated to campaign with Romney outside of Dayton on Tuesday — rallied volunteers at Romney campaign offices in the state.
There were additional reports Monday that Romney would try to travel to New Jersey to survey storm damage with Christie. The Romney campaign declined to comment on a potential trip to the state Tuesday. Republican strategists admit privately that they are concerned the storm could rally support around the president in the final days of the election, especially if the federal response is seen as effective. "Romney clearly had the momentum; it slowed down but it was still heading in his direction," conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer told Fox News. "It's not clear what happens when the country sort of wakes up out of this in three days and restarts attention on the campaign, whether the momentum will be gone or not. I mean, that's an open question."
The Romney campaign also again began blasting out press releases critical of President Obama, further evidence that the Republican nominee intended to segue back into campaign mode as quickly as possible. On Tuesday, they circulated op-eds suggesting that Romney had the momentum in the polls and bashing the president's suggestion Monday that he would be in favor of creating a "secretary of Business." But it's still not certain when the campaign will return to the breakneck pace that is expected from the waning days.
Jamal Simmons, a veteran of presidential campaigns, said the “circumstance of the storm” would determine how soon the president goes back on the stump.
“President Obama should keep doing his day job and let Biden, Clinton and Mrs. Obama do the political work,” Simmons said. “The networks and the major news organizations are focused on the storm-related problems happening around New York City and the East Coast, so very few other images and stories will break through anyway.”
This story was updated at 12:11 p.m.