ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A strengthening Hurricane Sandy disrupted the race for the White House Monday, with President Obama cancelling two of his precious waning campaign days to get Air Force One safely back to Washington and monitor the storm.
Obama rushed out of battleground Florida ahead of a planned noon rally to beat the worst of the weather system bearing down on the East Coast. As he was in midair, the White House announced that Tuesday's trip to Green Bay, Wis., also was off.
Republican nominee Mitt Romney was campaigning in the Midwest Monday out of the storm's path, but called off events scheduled in Virginia Sunday and New Hampshire Tuesday. He told supporters in the storm's path to bring in their yard signs so they don't damage property.
Obama, mindful of his need to show command in crisis while in the final throes of a tough re-election campaign, met with federal emergency officials Sunday before flying to Florida that night ahead of a rally scheduled for Monday. But the intensifying storm heading to the East Coast took priority, with the president signing emergency declarations for New England states in the middle of the night from his Orlando hotel room.
By dawn the White House decided to call off the politicking.
"Due to deteriorating weather conditions in the Washington area, the president will not attend today's campaign event in Orlando," spokesman Jay Carney said in a written statement. "The president will return to the White House to monitor the preparations for and early response to Hurricane Sandy."
About an hour after the statement went out, Obama slipped into his black armored limousine and his motorcade sped toward the airport under sunny Florida skies. The president jogged up the steps, and Air Force One quickly lifted off for the two-hour flight to Washington. Most of the White House press corps was left behind after the pilots of their separate chartered plane determined it was unsafe to follow Air Force One back.