WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney's meticulously arranged travel schedules, a crucial element of their final-stretch strategies, could be upended in the last full week before Election Day by a super storm barreling toward some battleground states.
And it's more than just travel that could be disrupted. A confluence of high wind, heavy rain, extreme tides and maybe snow could make it harder for Americans to participate in early voting, an important part of both campaigns' efforts, particularly for Obama.
Romney canceled a rally scheduled for Sunday in Virginia Beach, Va., and his campaign said it was also considering scrapping two other events in the state. Vice President Joe Biden also canceled an event Saturday in coastal Virginia, but an afternoon rally elsewhere in the state was still on.
But Obama's campaign said it, too, was continuing to watch the storm's trajectory.
"The campaign is closely monitoring the storm and will take all necessary precautions to make sure our staff and volunteers are safe," said Adam Fetcher, an Obama campaign spokesman.
The storm couldn't come at a worse time for the presidential campaigns. Both have enormous resources invested in getting voters to the polls before Election Day, as they try to use early voting to boost turnout among their supporters. And opportunities for the candidates to make personal appeals to voters in competitive states were already dwindling, even before the campaign faced the prospect of having to cancel stops because of the storm.
Parts of Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina — all battleground states — are in the path of the storm, which is forecast to start Sunday and stretch past Wednesday. New Hampshire, another battleground, could also be affected. Air travel could become a mess, making flying elsewhere a nightmare.
As of Friday afternoon, Obama's campaign had no plans to cancel any of the president's upcoming trips. He's scheduled to be in New Hampshire on Saturday. He also has stops planned Monday in Florida, Ohio and Virginia; Tuesday in Colorado and Wisconsin; and Wednesday in Ohio.
The president could come under more pressure than his Republican rival to cancel events if the storm requires mobilizing the government resources he oversees. But that could also provide him an opportunity to show command in a crisis, and perhaps win over some late-breaking voters.
Romney was scheduled to campaign this weekend in Florida, as well as Virginia. He also had a stop planned in Wisconsin Monday.
The states where the candidates plan to travel in the campaign's final days offer the clearest insight into their potential pathways to reaching the required 270 Electoral College votes.
That's why Air Force One and Romney's campaign plane have been making frequent stops in Ohio, a state both campaigns are aggressively pursuing.
If Romney loses Ohio, he would have to win nearly every other competitive state in order to reach 270. He spent three straight days in the Midwestern battleground this week, including a trio of events across the state on Thursday. Obama has traveled to Ohio more than any other state. He's been there 18 times this year and has at least two stops planned next week.
"Ohio, I believe in you. And I need you to keep believing in me," Obama said Thursday during a rally in Cleveland, with Air Force One serving as a backdrop. He said "Ohio" 26 times in a 25-minute speech.
Travel also tells the story in North Carolina, perhaps the hardest state for Obama to win. The president hasn't visited the state since wrapping up his party convention in Charlotte seven weeks ago. Meanwhile Romney, signaling confidence in North Carolina, held a rally earlier this month in Asheville, a Democratic-leaning area of the state.
Obama advisers insist they can pull out a close win in North Carolina. But they know North Carolina is unlikely to be the state that determines if Obama hits the 270 threshold. So they would rather have him campaign in the states that could be crucial, like Nevada, Iowa and Wisconsin, in addition to Ohio.
On Thursday, the campaign passed the $2 billion mark, signaling a finance system vastly altered by the proliferation of outside groups and "super" political committees that are bankrolling a barrage of TV ads in battleground states.
That means neither campaign is facing the type of fall financial squeeze that previously has turned the final weeks of presidential races into something of a chess match. Campaigns often signaled their strategies by pulling money and staff out of states that are moving away and dumping more resources into states that were competitive.
Both campaigns say they keep spending money in all nine competitive states — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin — through Election Day. Both also have added small amounts of advertising time in a 10th state, Minnesota.