LAND O'LAKES, Fla. (AP) — Scrambling to avoid the superstorm that threatens to disrupt the lives of millions of Americans up and down the East Coast, Republican Mitt Romney is returning to battleground Ohio to fight for momentum nine days before the election.
The GOP presidential candidate had planned to campaign Sunday in Virginia, but will instead join running mate Paul Ryan in the Buckeye State. The weather also forced President Barack Obama to shift his campaign schedule.
The storm presents both sides with a most unlikely October surprise as polls show an extraordinarily tight race. Hurricane Sandy had each campaign discarding carefully mapped-out itineraries as they worked to maximize voter turnout while avoiding any suggestion they were putting politics ahead of public safety.
On Saturday, Romney spoke of bipartisanship before early voters in Florida, while Obama worked to nail down tiny New Hampshire's four electoral votes.
The former Massachusetts governor, who presented himself as a staunch conservative during the Republican primaries but has been striking a more moderate tone as he courts women and independent voters in the campaign's home stretch, campaigned across Florida. He promised to "build bridges" with Democrats.
Romney coupled his message with digs at the president for "shrinking from the magnitude of the times" and advancing an agenda that lacks vision.
Obama, who planned to travel to Florida Sunday night, took his campaign to New Hampshire. He told volunteers Saturday at a Teamsters hall in Manchester that: "We don't know how this thing is going to play out. These four electoral voters right here could make all the difference."
Winning the White House takes 270 electoral votes. Obama is ahead in states and the District of Columbia representing 237 electoral votes; Romney has a comfortable lead in states with 191 electoral votes. The rest lie in nine contested states that remain too close to call.
The president adjusted his campaign speech at a Nashua rally to appeal to voters in low-tax New Hampshire, hammering Romney for raising taxes and fees as governor of neighboring Massachusetts.
Obama accused Romney of running in Massachusetts on a pledge to lower taxes, then making life more expensive for the middle class after taking office.
"All he's offering is a big rerun of the same policies," Obama told a crowd of 8,500 gathered at an outdoor rally on an unseasonably warm October day.
The candidates worked to lock down every possible early vote without intruding on emergency preparations as the storm's expected track looked to affect at least four battleground states: North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio and New Hampshire.
Obama canceled appearances in Prince William County, Va., on Monday, and Colorado Springs, Colo., on Tuesday so he could monitor Hurricane Sandy as it surges ashore. He did move up his planned Monday departure for Florida to Sunday night to beat the storm and planned a Monday stop in Youngstown, Ohio, before returning home to Washington.
Instead of campaigning in Virginia as scheduled, Romney on Sunday joins Ryan for three stops of his Ohio bus tour.
Vice President Joe Biden canceled a Saturday rally in coastal Virginia Beach, Va., to allow local officials there to focus on disaster preparedness and local security concerns. But he went ahead with an appearance in Lynchburg, which is inland.
Biden said Romney and Ryan are fleeing from their record to appear more moderate than they are. They "are counting on the American people to have an overwhelming case of amnesia."
En route to New Hampshire, Obama held an airborne conference call with administration officials about the federal government's role in minimizing storm damage and ensuring a speedy recovery effort.
Romney's trip to Florida, with three events across the state, was timed to coincide with the first day of in-person early voting in a state where 29 electoral votes are up for grabs.