For the last four days -- and for at least the next four days -- there is only one story in the country: Hurricane Sandy.
Hurricanes dominating the news is nothing new, but the timing of Sandy -- it will make landfall just eight days before a presidential election -- presents a unique set of challenges for both President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Theories abound as to how Sandy could impact this contest. Some argue it could aid Obama as he will be front and center over the next few days fulfilling his duties as president rather than looking like a candidate. Others note that Democrats rely on early voting far more than do Republicans, and widespread power outages and damage left in the wake of the storm could keep some voters at home in the runup to the election -- a possibility that top Obama advisor David Axelrod expressed concern about Sunday.
Speculation aside, there's one thing that Hurricane Sandy has already done -- and will continue to do for at least the early part of this week: freeze the race in place.
There will be nothing -- repeat: nothing -- on cable television over the next several days other than images of Sandy churning it's way up the East Coast. (Yes, residents of everywhere not in the path of the storm, we know that it's not a big story for you. But the storm is headed toward Washington and New York City, two of the country's biggest media centers. It's just a fact.)
What that wall-to-wall coverage of the storm will bump off the air, of course, is the wall-to-wall coverage of the campaign that would have been there if not for Sandy. (All of the reporters who were being added for the final week of the election will now be diverted to cover the path of Sandy.) And it will force the two candidates and their campaigns to be far less aggressive in their scheduling and messaging than they normally would be in the race's last days. Can you imagine if you are seeing footage of homes destroyed and then commercials air that savage either Obama or Romney? Not exactly what you want to see at that moment.
The cumulative effect will be to preserve the race as it was towards the end of last week -- a dead heat nationally with President Obama clinging to a swing state edge. What remains to be seen is when/if things return to normal before Nov. 6, and if they do, what the two campaigns do in what will be a very short window before voters' vote.
Newspaper endorsement update: Romney got one of the biggest newspaper endorsements of the year when the Des Moines Register backed him on Saturday night. The paper had support Obama in 2008.
Other big endorsements followed Sunday, with Obama getting the Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press, the New York Times, the Toledo Blade and the Youngstown Vindicator in Ohio and the Raleigh News and Observer.
As for Romney, he basically swept the big papers in Iowa, getting the Quad City Times, the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Sioux City Journal. He also got the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Green Bay Press-Gazette and the Florida Times-Union.
Here's a good rundown of which swing state newspapers are backing Romney and Obama. (Hint: Romney has more.)
A new Romney ad in Ohio hits Obama for taking General Motors and Chrysler into bankruptcy.
Maryland has canceled early voting on Monday, at the direction of Gov. Martin O'Malley (D).
The federal government is also closed on Monday.
Democrats beat Republicans by 39,000 votes Saturday on the first day of in-person early voting in Florida, cutting the GOP's 66,000-vote lead on absentee ballots by more than half in just one day. Republicans note that Democrats performed better on day one four years ago.
A new Washington Post poll in Virginia shows Obama up four.
A new poll in Minnesota shows Romney within three.
Newt Gingrich hits Obama on his vote against a late-term abortion ban.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) says the Obama Administration's handling of Libya is either the biggest coverup he has ever seen or the greatest incompetence he has ever seen.
Carly Fiorina, the vice chairwoman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, calls Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock "more extreme" on abortion and likens Romney's abortion stance to Democratic nominee Rep. Joe Donnelly.
A second woman comes forward and says (anonymously) that Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) formed a romantic relationship with her when she was his patient. She also says DesJarlais smoked marijuana and prescribed her medication from her home.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) offers the following in an interview with the Washington Post: "This isn’t the politically correct thing to say, but when we drove the mother out of the home into the workplace and replaced her with the television set, that was not a good thing.” Bartlett is likely to lose his seat thanks to changes created by redistricting.
The conservative outside group Independent Women's Voice is launching a $7.4 million online ad campaign featuring a pair of ads with women talking about the candidates as though they were their boyfriends. One woman makes excuses for Obama ("I miss the way he used to make me feel") while another talks about Romney as "Mr. Dependable."
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who has been a bit stingy with his endorsements, backs Rep. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.).
"Why redistricting could doom House Democrats" -- Dylan Matthews, Washington Post
"Advantage Obama in hunt for 270 electoral votes" -- Thomas Beaumont, AP
"Mourdock's words poised to defeat him" -- Brian Howey, Northwest Indiana Times
"How Hurricane Sandy Could Matter on Election Day" -- John Sides, Campaigns and Elections
"Famous for Gaffes, a Candidate in Missouri Learns to Watch His Words" -- John Eligon, New York Times
"At the end of the trail with Plouffe on Obama's ‘48-hour fly-around campaign marathon extravaganza’" -- Jason Horowitz, Washington Post
"Obama Is Even in TV Ad Race Despite PACs" -- Jeremy W. Peters, Nicholas Confessore and Sarah Cohen, New York Times