IOWA - Republican White House candidate Mitt Romney cancelled campaign events on Monday and Tuesday and was briefed by federal emergency officials on a monster storm lashing the US East Coast.
The move was both a show of sensitivity as millions of Americans hunkered down for the arrival of mega-storm Sandy, and a bid by the candidate to engage with storm preparedness and response as his rival President Barack Obama draws on the full authority of his office just eight days before the US election.
Romney's campaign stop cancellations meant he would not appear in Wisconsin later Monday, and he was also postponing events elsewhere Tuesday, complicating efforts to maintain momentum a week before the November 6 election.
Romney is locked in a bitter, down-to-the-wire race against Obama, who also took critical time away from campaigning to oversee a national response to one of the biggest storms to hit the United States in years.
The Republican nominee urged his supporters to show compassion to those trapped in the path of the mega-storm.
"Our hearts and prayers are with all the people in the storm's path. Sandy is another devastating hurricane by all accounts, and a lot of people are going to be facing some real tough times as a result of Sandy's fury," Romney told a rally Monday in Ohio.
He urged supporters to help "in any way you can," including contributing to groups like the Red Cross or other relief agencies.
"We've faced these kinds of challenges before... This looks like another time when we have to come together all across the country -- even here in Ohio -- and make sure that we give of our support to the people who need it."
A Romney rally in Davenport, Iowa went ahead as planned, and it was there the former Massachusetts governor was briefed for 20 minutes by telephone by Richard Serino, deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"The governor was updated on the progress of Hurricane Sandy, the status of the federal government's efforts to assist state and local governments with disaster relief, and potential challenges that affected states and communities will deal with over the next 24-48 hours because of the storm," senior advisor Kevin Madden told reporters.
The disparity between Romney and Obama on the storm front was clear; Romney has no formal role in overseeing operations, while Obama has been coordinating closely with FEMA director Craig Fugate and other top officials on the federal response to one of the worst US natural disasters in years.
Romney's communications director Gail Gitcho said Romney and running mate Paul Ryan would cancel events "out of sensitivity for the millions of Americans in the path of Hurricane Sandy."
Romney's move followed Obama's decision to halt campaigning and return to Washington to manage the US government's effort to deal with the storm, roaring ashore in northeastern states late Monday.
Obama had been due to campaign in swing states Florida, Ohio and Virginia on Monday and to travel to Colorado and Wisconsin on Tuesday.
Romney had been expected in Iowa and Ohio on Tuesday.
The storm is a sudden disruption at a crucial stage of the campaign as the two rivals make their closing arguments in the tight, and heated race.
But despite the unspoken truce over the storm, Romney kept up the pressure, telling voters in Ohio and Iowa -- two major political battlegrounds -- that Obama had no plan for a second term except to raise taxes.
"The president happens to think we're already on the right track, everything is going fine," he told a few thousand people at the Davenport rally.
"I don't think we're on the right path. I want to take a new path and get America strong again, and I will."
Obama's "people," Romney said, are going "all over the country and shouting four more years. Our slogan is eight more days."
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