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Five places where Hurricane Sandy could affect the election

We're still waiting for the full impact of Hurricane Sandy. But we've got at least a sense for what lies ahead in the next hours and days.

The National Weather Service has issued a series of warnings up and down the East Coast.

Below, we take a geographical look at the five most politically important areas in the path of the storm:

1. Philadelphia: This is where Democrats win elections in Pennsylvania, and it's smack-dab in the middle of where the hurricane is supposed to make landfall. There is currently a flood warning in place for Philadelphia. The question is whether whatever happens over the next week hurts turnout in this vital area of the state. There is no early voting, so Democrats won't be losing votes before Election Day, but they'll need this area to come out strong on Nov. 6. If it doesn't, that could give Republicans a better chance in a blue-leaning state (and a huge electoral vote prize).

2. Boston: This is where Romney's campaign headquarters is, while Obama's HQ appears safe in Chicago. If power goes out on Romney HQ, how can it run a real campaign? (No word from Romney camp on any backup plans/whether they have backup power in place.)

(Jim Young/Reuters)

3. Southwest Virginia: The most conservative part of this very important swing state appears primed for a sizable snowstorm. Losing power is one thing, but not being able to get to the polls s another. There are winter storm warnings in place for significant portions of southwest Virginia and blizzard warnings in place in a couple counties (along with more blizzard warnings right across the border in West Virginia). Some counties in very conservative western North Carolina are also under a winter storm warning, which could lower early vote turnout there.

4. Western and coastal North Carolina: While western North Carolina faces a potential snowstorm, two counties in coastal North Carolina shut down their early voting operations on Monday with the hurricane approaching. If the storm hits hard enough in the western and eastern parts of the state and leaves the more urban middle parts of the state alone (Raleigh and Charlotte, for instance, are only under wind advisories), that probably hurts Republicans more. And the impact will be immediate, with in-person early voting in full swing.

(In-person early voting doesn't exist in New Hampshire and isn't as big a deal in Virginia, where it requires voters to have a valid excuse. About the only other state where a big early voting shutdown could occur is Ohio.)

5. Northern and eastern Ohio: Ohio is expected to feel the hurricane. At this point, northern and eastern Ohio are under high wind warnings, but more conservative western Ohio and southern Ohio are not. The vast majority of the counties Obama won in Ohio in 2008 were in northern and eastern Ohio, while he lost most of the territory to the south and west. It seems apparent this the storm could affect more Obama voters than Romney voters in Ohio. And again, early voting is in full swing here, so every day matters.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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