President Barack Obama canceled his campaign appearance with former President Bill Clinton in Orlando, Fla. Monday to return to the White House in advance of Hurricane Sandy, where he held a press conference warning the public to prepare quickly for the epic storm.
???This is going to be a difficult storm,??? Obama said. ???Please listen to what your state and local officials are saying. When they tell you to evacuate, you need to evacuate. Don???t delay, don???t pause, don???t question the instructions that are being given because this is a powerful storm,??? Obama said.
Obama initially cancelled campaign appearances in Virginia, where the storm is expected to cause extensive damage, and in Colorado on Tuesday. However, he left Washington Sunday night to attend the Florida rally Monday with Clinton, before changing his mind at the last minute and returning to Washington as the outer bands of the storm were already battering the capitol area.
The massive storm extends over 700 miles and is expected to cause widespread destruction.
Video of the damage juxtaposed with Obama continuing his election efforts is not an image the campaign wanted in the final days. However, Obama denied his re-election was an issue in his decision-making.
???I am not worried at this point about the impact on the election,??? Obama told reporters. ???I???m worried about the impact on families, and I???m worried about our first responders. The election will take care of itself next week. Right now our Number one priority is that we???re saving lives.???
On at least two occasions, Obama and the White House have taken advantage of the storm situation to reinforce the president???s reelection campaign slogan, ???Lean Forward.???
???We want to make sure that we are anticipating and leaning forward into making sure that we???ve got the best possible response to what is going to be a big and messy system,??? Obama said during a public appearance with FEMA officials Sunday
A White House statement on Sunday also said ???The president will continue to receive regular briefings on these efforts, and has made clear that he expects his team to continue to lean forward as Hurricane Sandy approaches.???
Interestingly, the New York Times reported Monday that even as White House officials announced Obama would speak to the nation about the storm, ???the president???s top campaign advisers convened a conference call with reporters to discuss the latest polling and the status of a race that remains very close.???
Campaign officials also took the opportunity to take a shot at Republican challenger Mitt Romney, accusing him of bluffing in claims that he can win key battleground states.
David Axelrod, Obama???s chief strategist, conceded that the storm would affect the president???s ability to campaign in the near term, but said that was necessary because Mr. Obama ???has real responsibilities??? to attend.
???We???re obviously going to lose a bunch of campaign time, but that???s as it has to be, and we???ll try to make it up on the back end,??? the Times quoted Axelrod as telling reporters.
When Obama???s campaign left Florida, the press corps traveling with him got left behind and will be stranded there until Tuesday, the Times also reported.
???Pilots of the charter plane carrying the reporters said on Monday that it was not safe to fly back to Washington from Florida, according to an e-mail from Ed Henry, the Fox News correspondent and president of the White House Correspondents Association.???