NASHUA, N.H. — Racing to get their last-minute messages across before campaigning is overshadowed by Hurricane Sandy, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney Saturday made impassioned pitches to voters in the swing states of Florida and New Hampshire.
As the potentially devastating storm began barreling up the Eastern Seaboard, Romney spent the day in Florida, where early voting began Saturday. Obama rallied supporters in New Hampshire on the last day people can register to vote before Election Day.
The storm’s political impact was already being felt. Romney canceled scheduled Sunday appearances in Virginia to head for Ohio instead. Obama went ahead with plans to campaign on Monday but canceled plans to campaign on Tuesday so he could return to the White House to monitor events.
“The President will continue to receive regular briefings on these efforts, and has made clear that he expects his team to continue to lean forward as Hurricane Sandy approaches,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Saturday evening in a statement that used the campaign theme, forward, with the comments on governing.
At the outset of such catastrophes, presidents have an opportunity to gain support, since they can show they’re effectively managing a crisis. That can backfire, too, as President George W. Bush learned in the bungled aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In Florida, Romney told supporters that they should keep residents along the Eastern Seaboard in "your minds, your hearts.” “Yu know how tough these hurricanes can be,’’ he said.
If the storm intensifies, it’s likely to get tougher for Romney and Obama to get the attention of voters in these final, crucial days before the Nov. 6 election. It could also hurt their get-out-the-vote effort in early voting states. Polls show Obama and Romney locked in a statistical tie nationally and in the 11 swing states likely to decide the presidency.
Florida has 29 electoral votes, while New Hampshire has four. If the race remains tight, as expected, even those four votes could be important, and Obama and Romney are neck and neck there.
“These four electoral votes right here could make the difference,” Obama told 60 supporters at his first stop Saturday at a Teamsters’ hall in Manchester.
Next it was on to the Elm Street Middle School in Nashua, where Obama warned that Romney has “an entirely different view of what this country’s about.” An audience estimated ay 8,500 booed, and Obama smiled and implored them, “Don’t boo, don’t.”
He joked about Romney’s 2003-2007 stint as governor of Massachusetts, a state just minutes away from the campaign site. “He raised fees to get a birth certificate,” Obama joked, “which would have been expensive for me.” Obama was born in Hawaii, and released his long-form birth certificate last year, but some critics have questioned his place of birth.
He also continued to make a special appeal to women, insisting “We don’t need a whole bunch of politicians in Washington, most of whom are male, making health care decisions for women.”
Romney made his case in Florida, which narrowly voted for Obama in 2008. Polls this week show Romney inching ahead there as the economic downturn has hit the state particularly hard, leaving a slew of home foreclosures and an unemployment rate higher than the national average.
He spoke at the civic center in Pensacola, a Panhandle city with strong ties to the military. Lines to get in stretched around the block. Romney spoke on a stage in front of a massive American flag and a massive blue sign promising, “Real Recovery.”
Romney criticized Obama for failing to get people back to work, pushing the new health care law and for waging a campaign of petty attacks.
"Four years ago Obama spoke about big things and now he is reduced to talking about small things,” said Romney, who for days has tried to appear presidential by sticking to broad themes without many specifics.
He talked about how Republicans would work with Democrats, as he did when he was governor of Massachusetts.
Romney also answered an Obama attack from Monday’s presidential debate, when the president ridiculed Romney’s complaint that the Navy has fewer ships than at any time since 1917 by saying the U.S. military also has "fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed."
"In fact, we do use bayonets,’’ Romney said to cheers.
Crowds for both candidates arrived hours early and cheered enthusiastically. “How often do you get a chance to see the next president?” said James Peterson, who attended the Romney rally with his 10-year-old, Trevor. The two arrived at 8 a.m. for the noontime rally.
In Nashua, Obama supporters showed just as much passion for their candidate. Natalie Audette, a health insurance saleswoman, praised the administration’s support for health care programs. Her two children both need aid, and a Romney administration, she said, would leave such decisions up to states.