US & Canada

US election: Storm blows presidential race off course

Sandy the super-storm has blown the US presidential race off track with just a week to go until the elections.

President Barack Obama cancelled Wednesday campaign events as he stayed in Washington focusing on relief efforts for the devastated East Coast.

Republican Mitt Romney held a storm-relief event in Ohio, a state crucial to his hopes, and returns to the campaign trail proper on Wednesday.

Opinion polls show the candidates are running neck-and-neck.

Mr Romney holds a slender lead in some national surveys of the popular vote, but Mr Obama was narrowly ahead in some of the swing states that are expected to decide the race.

The storm has effectively frozen the hotly fought election battle by dominating media coverage, while muting the two rivals.

Republican praises Obama

With President Obama monitoring relief efforts from the White House, Mr Romney faced the delicate challenge of trying to demonstrate his leadership abilities without electioneering amid a natural disaster.

Washington DC's political analysts were meanwhile left playing guessing games about Sandy's possible implications for the White House contest.

The storm has complicated early voting already underway in Virginia and Florida and could depress voter turnout in areas with power cuts and debris-clogged roads.

On Tuesday, the president met American Red Cross workers in Washington DC and held briefings with disaster-relief managers, as well as the governors and mayors of affected areas.

Mr Obama offered his thoughts and prayers to those affected, telling them: "America is with you."

'Heavy hearts'

He will tour disaster areas in New Jersey on Wednesday, accompanied by the state's Republican Governor Chris Christie.

Gov Christie has praised Mr Obama's response to the storm as "outstanding".

Such plaudits from a popular Republican governor, touted as a possible 2016 presidential candidate should Mr Romney lose, represent useful publicity for the Obama campaign.

Storm aftermath permitting, Mr Obama is still scheduled to hold rallies on Thursday in Nevada, Colorado and Ohio.

Mr Romney is meanwhile heading to Florida. The former governor of Massachusetts is to stage at least three rallies in that critical swing state on Wednesday.

The Republican candidate went ahead with an appearance on Tuesday morning in Kettering, Ohio, far from Sandy's reach, although it was converted from a political rally to a storm-relief event.

The gathering was not entirely stripped of campaign trappings - there was a biographical film about the candidate, and a country music singer who was originally booked for the rally still turned up to perform.

But Mr Romney did not mention the Democratic incumbent he aims to oust from the White House in next week's election.

"We have heavy hearts this morning with all the suffering going on in a major part of our country," Mr Romney told several hundred people, many of whom came with bags of canned goods and other items that will be shipped to the East Coast.

The Republican faced questions from reporters about a proposal he made earlier this year to funnel money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the states and private sector.

Mr Romney refused to answer questions from reporters about whether he intended to target the agency, which is now leading the relief effort in areas battered by Sandy.

But a campaign spokeswoman, Amanda Henneberg, said: "A Romney-Ryan administration will always ensure that disaster funding is there for those in need. Period."

The BBC will be providing full online live results of the US presidential election on 6 November. More details here

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