NASHUA, N.H. — President Obama and rival Mitt Romney held dueling rallies along the Eastern Seaboard on Saturday, but both of their campaigns were scrambling to make schedule changes to avoid Hurricane Sandy just 10 days before voters head to the polls.
Obama, who has convened a pair of conference calls with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the past two days, has ordered that all federal resources be available to help states respond to the powerful storm that is expected to crash into the Mid-Atlantic region by the end of the weekend.
The president appeared at a rally with 8,500 attendees in Nashua on Saturday, and he was planning to leave Washington again Sunday, a day earlier than initially planned, to beat the storm for a swing through Florida and Ohio on Monday. White House officials said a planned rally in Virginia on Monday night and an event in Colorado Springs on Tuesday have been canceled.
White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama is “focused on” storm preparations, even as he continues to campaign.
“This is an example, yet again, of the president having to put his responsibilities as commander in chief and as leader of the country first, while at the same time he pursues his responsibilities as a candidate for reelection,” Earnest said.
Romney rallied 10,000 people in Pensacola, Fla., on Saturday, while his campaign canceled a day of campaigning scheduled for Virginia — three rallies set for Sunday in Sterling, Richmond and Virginia Beach. A Romney aide said the Republican nominee instead will head to Ohio to join his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), on a bus tour across the state.
Romney said he spoke Saturday with Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), whom he said told him that the state’s emergency personnel needed to focus on preparing for the storm. “So we’re not going to be able to be in Virginia tomorrow,” Romney told a rally in Kissimmee, Fla. “We’re going to Ohio instead. But I hope you’ll keep the folks in Virginia and New Jersey and New York and all along the coast in your minds and in your hearts. You know how tough these hurricanes can be, and our hearts go out to them.”
The schedule disruptions didn’t stop the two candidates from again delivering sharply personal attacks on each other Saturday. Obama used his appearance near Romney’s home state of Massachusetts to accuse him of raising taxes on the middle class when he was governor in the form of a wide range of service fees in order to collect $750 million in revenue.
“There were higher fees to be a barber, a nurse, to get gas, to buy milk, for blind people to get the certification that they were blind,” Obama said, before cracking a joke that played off the birther conspiracy that the president was not born in the United States. “He raised fees on people to get birth certificates, which would have been expensive for me.”
The president said Romney’s record shows that he promises one thing while campaigning but delivers another in office. Obama’s campaign has sought to paint Romney as untrustworthy since their first debate, when the GOP candidate appeared to reverse himself on several positions related to his tax plan and education.
“This is a guy who has a track record saying one thing and doing something else,” Obama said.
Meanwhile, Romney swooped into Florida’s Republican-dominated panhandle to rally his conservative base, charging that Obama was “shrinking from the magnitude of the times” and pledging to undo much of his first-term record.
Romney continued his new mantra that he would bring “real change and big change to America” and promised to work across the aisle with Democrats to tackle big challenges such as the growing debt. And, visiting an area heavily populated with active and retired military, Romney slammed Obama for mocking him in the last debate over his proposal to add more ships to the Navy.
On the first day of early voting in Florida, Romney campaigned across the Sunshine State with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
“You know, the supporters of the president’s have this chant: ‘Four more years! Four more years!’” Romney said. He said that he preferred the chant, “Ten more days!”
“It’s 10 more days because it matters to you,” Romney said. “This election matters to the world, it matters to the country, but it matters to your family. And I hope you understand that this is an election about very big things, like the big things that go on in your life.”
Both rallies took on sharply partisan tones.
Introducing Obama, Sen. Jean Shaheen (D-N.H.) ridiculed one of Romney’s most memorable debate lines when she told the crowd that New Hampshire “doesn’t need ‘binders full of women’ because we have ballots full of women.”
At Romney’s rally, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) delivered a fiery introductory speech in which he suggested that it was Obama’s fault that U.S. diplomatic workers were killed last month in Benghazi, Libya.
“America deserves a president that will not leave a United States ambassador and three others,” Miller said, as the crowd chanted, “U-S-A! U-S-A!” Miller added, “Mr. President, the phone rang and you didn’t answer it.”
Later in the day, Romney campaigned in Kissimmee, a swing suburb of Orlando where nearly half the residents are Hispanic, to try to make inroads with a voting demographic that leans heavily in Obama’s favor.
Two large banners hung over the rally, saying in Spanish, “We Need a Real Recovery.” And when Rubio introduced Romney at the rally of about 4,000, he delivered a portion of his remarks in Spanish. Switching back to English, the senator joked, “If you don’t speak Spanish, let me tell you what I said. What I said is that you can save a bunch of money on your car insurance if you elect Mitt Romney!”
Rucker reported from Florida.