Youngstown, Ohio • With Election Day in sight, the October surprise of 2012 has turned out to be a monster storm that has forced an unprecedented hiatus in a presidential campaign.
Instead of hop-scotching from one battleground to the next, President Barack Obama returned Monday to the White House to huddle with emergency managers, confer with governors and issue grave warnings.
GOP rival Mitt Romney had little choice but to stand down temporarily, too, to avoid unflattering split-screen news coverage as Hurricane Sandy churned and chewed its way along the Eastern Seaboard.
"I know you were expecting the real president," Vice President Joe Biden told a crowd in Youngstown, where he and former President Bill Clinton pinch hit at an afternoon rally that Obama was supposed to headline. "But you know, he's doing the job a president should be doing."
Contenders routinely make wrenching decisions on the fly in the waning days of a campaign - picking media markets to abandon, choosing between cities for a frantic 11th hour troll for votes. A storm of Sandy's magnitude is not in the playbook, and it tested the nerves of strategists in both camps, given how close the contest is nationally and in the nine or so states likely to decide the winner.
No one could know how a break from the trail might harm efforts to boost voters' enthusiasm and get them to the polls or how the impact of the storm itself might depress turnout or even change minds based on how Obama and Romney handle the response to potential devastation on the East Coast.
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told reporters the president's schedule will be assessed "day by day" as the storm and its aftermath develop. GOP chairman Reince Priebus, traveling with his party's nominee, said Romney's schedule was being reviewed "minute by minute."
On Monday morning, with the storm's intensity growing, the Obama campaign dropped the president's scheduled appearances in Florida and Youngstown. Biden scrapped two stops in Ohio on Tuesday and another in his hometown of Scranton, Pa., a stop intended to blunt any potential erosion in a state Democrats have mostly taken for granted this year.
Romney stumped in suburban Cleveland before taking a break for at least a day. He urged supporters to contribute to the Red Cross and noted that his campaign offices are taking donations.
"I know the people of the Atlantic Coast are counting on Ohio and the rest of our states," he told at least 2,000 supporters packing the gym at Avon Lake High School. "But also, the people of the entire nation are counting on Ohio because my guess is that if Ohio votes me in as president, I'll be the next president."
Even with the stars sidelined, the campaign is hardly suspended.
Obama was making the best of it, popping into the White House briefing room to convey the gravity of the situation, and shrugging off the political implications.
"I am not worried at this point about the impact on the election," he said. "I'm worried about the impact on families, and I'm worried about the impact on our first responders. I'm worried about the impact on our economy and on transportation. The election will take care of itself next week."