DAVENPORT, Iowa – Mitt Romney juggled politics and Hurricane Sandy's fury on Monday as he tweaked his campaign schedule and political rhetoric eight days before most voters head to the polls.
In two campaign stops in two states, the Republican presidential candidate called for President Barack Obama's defeat in the same speeches he called for supporters to send donations to help those in the storm's path.
"We love our fellow Americans. Wish them well!" Romney declared at a Monday afternoon rally in Davenport, nearly 1,000 miles from where Hurricane Sandy was set to make landfall along the Atlantic coast.
Romney, who also campaigned in Ohio earlier in the day, canceled an evening event in Wisconsin and Tuesday rallies across Ohio and Iowa "out of sensitivity for the millions of Americans in the path of Hurricane Sandy," according to campaign spokesman Gail Gitcho.
His campaign also mobilized campaign staff across storm-lashed Virginia to collect donations for victims, used a campaign bus to distribute supplies, and called on those in the hurricane's path to remove yard signs that could become dangerous projectiles in windy conditions. Just before his Iowa rally, Romney was briefed on the storm by officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Weather Service.
"It's going to affect a lot of families; it already has," he said. "And the damage will probably be significant, and of course a lot of people will be out of power for a long time. And so hopefully your thoughts and prayers will join with mine and people across the country as you think about those folks that are in harm's way."
The storm has created major headaches for both presidential candidates in the final days of a very close presidential contest.
The decision to cancel the campaign events was announced shortly after President Barack Obama decided to skip a morning rally in Florida and fly back to Washington to oversee the government's hurricane response from the White House. Obama also canceled campaign events scheduled for Tuesday.
Aides at Romney's campaign headquarters in Boston were scrambling to sketch out political contingency plans. In addition to postponing events, they planned to scale back criticism of Obama to avoid the perception that Romney was putting politics ahead of public safety.
The logistical strains on Romney's campaign were immediate.
In an organization where motorcade rides, rallies and the candidate's movements are scheduled down to the minute days before they happen, it remained unclear until about 3 p.m. Eastern time where Romney and his entourage of reporters, staffers and Secret Service agents would sleep Monday night. Reporters peppered his aides with possible swing states — Nevada? Florida? Colorado? — but received only anxious smiles until it was announced that Romney would return to Ohio to spend the night.
He was likely to appear at a local relief center in the Dayton area on Tuesday, although his schedule was far from settled late Monday.
Meanwhile, Romney did not ignore politics on Monday, keeping one eye on the storm and one eye on the Nov. 6 election.
"I know the people of the Atlantic Coast are counting on Ohio and the rest of our states," he told more than 2,000 supporters in the gymnasium of an Ohio high school earlier Monday. "But also I think the people of the entire nation are counting on Ohio because my guess is that if Ohio votes me in as president I'll be the next president of the United States."
Campaign officials say Republican vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan also was scrapping rallies in Florida and Colorado.
Romney was also considering traveling to New Jersey later in the week, where he could meet with victims and survey storm damage with Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a top Romney ally.
The move would mimic Romney's actions after the Republican National Convention in Tampa., Fla., in late August, which was cut short because of Hurricane Isaac. He toured storm damage in Louisiana with Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, another top supporter.
Republicans concede that the storm essentially pushed a pause button on the momentum Romney had been building in key states. But aides insist he is in a strong position in critical battlegrounds like Ohio, Florida, Colorado and Iowa, but acknowledge Virginia could be a problem. Romney was forced to cancel three rallies planned for Virginia on Sunday. It was unclear whether he'll be able to return before the election.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who was traveling with Romney, said Monday that the campaign was reviewing its plans "minute by minute," but downplayed the impact of the storm on Romney's chances of winning the election.
"It's been a long campaign and I think the issues are pretty much cemented in peoples' minds right now," Priebus said. "The first thing is making sure that people in the path of the storm are safe."