* Romney cancels Virginia appearances, will head to Ohio
* Obama cancels stops in Virginia, Colorado
* Sandy's approach raises concerns about early voting
NASHUA, N.H./KISSIMMEE, Fla., Oct 27 (Reuters) - President
Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney campaigned
feverishly in closely contested battleground states on Saturday
but changed travel plans to avoid Hurricane Sandy, the massive
storm approaching the U.S. East Coast.
With just 10 days before Election Day and polls showing the
national race a dead heat, Romney held three rallies in Florida,
whose 29 electoral votes are the biggest prize among states
considered too close to call.
Romney told supporters in Pensacola that Obama was focusing
his campaign on small things, and vowed to win the election, to
chants of "10 more days, 10 more days."
"Look into the future and see the debt that's being amassed
and say, 'What is right for America?' This is a time of big
choices, of big consequence. It's a big election," Romney said.
Romney's events in Florida came on the first day of
in-person early voting in the state. In 2008, Obama benefited
from the strong turnout of Democrats in early voting.
Republicans have made a push to get Romney supporters to vote
early in 2012.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, traveling with Romney in
Florida, told reporters on the campaign plane that the
Republican get-out-the-vote effort in his state was much better
than in 2008.
"The best way to put it is, in Florida, I'd rather be us
than them," said Rubio, who later left the campaign trail after
his 12-year-old daughter was injured in an accident in Miami.
Obama spent Saturday in New Hampshire, whose four electoral
votes could make a difference in the tight race.
"Ten days, New Hampshire, 10 days and you'll be stepping
into a voting booth and making a defining choice about the
future of our country," the Democratic president told about
8,500 people in a speech criticizing Romney's record on taxes
and fees as governor of Massachusetts.
New Hampshire is known for its low taxes. Many of its
residents moved away from Massachusetts to cut their tax bills.
Both campaigns were keeping a wary eye on Hurricane Sandy,
which threatened to slam into the eastern third of the country
on Monday or Tuesday with torrential rains, high winds, major
flooding and power outages.
In Kissimmee, Romney told the crowd to keep those in the
path of the storm "in your mind and in your hearts. You know how
tough hurricanes can be."
CHANGE OF PLANS
Romney canceled a trip to Virginia scheduled for Sunday,
when the state is expected to begin feeling the impact of the
approaching storm. A Washington Post poll on Saturday showed
Obama leading Romney by 51 percent to 47 percent among likely
voters in Virginia, just above its margin of error of 3.5
Romney will go instead to Ohio for appearances with Paul
Ryan, his vice presidential running mate. Most polls give Obama
a slim lead in Ohio, which has 18 electoral votes.
Obama canceled a campaign stop with former President Bill
Clinton in Virginia on Monday as well as a trip to Colorado
Springs, Colorado, on Tuesday because of the impending storm.
"The president is being regularly updated on the storm and
ongoing preparations, and he has directed his team to continue
to bring all available resources to bear as state and local
partners continue to prepare for the storm," White House
spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.
With widespread concern that power blackouts in Sandy's wake
could interfere with early balloting, lines at early voting
stations stretched for blocks at some polling stations in
Maryland, which began early voting on Saturday.
Polling sites in Virginia were also busy.
Eager to avoid any complaints that campaigning distracts
from handling a potential natural disaster, the White House
pointed out that Obama was briefed about Hurricane Sandy on
board Air Force One as he traveled to New Hampshire.
"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 candidate for election," White House
spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
In such a close election, Obama does not want to be seen
mishandling Sandy. White House officials are keenly aware of the
severe criticism that President George W. Bush received for
failing to react quickly to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Obama and Romney are in a late sprint to ensure that their
supporters get out to the polls and to win over the dwindling
pool of undecided voters in the eight or so battleground states
where the election will be decided.
They remained in a statistical dead heat on Saturday in the
daily Reuters/Ipsos online tracking poll. Obama led Romney by 47
percent to 45 percent, within the survey's credibility
The poll also showed that support for the candidates was
solidifying. Almost nine out of 10 of registered voters now say
they will definitely vote for their candidate, leaving just 12
percent who say they could change their minds.
In contrast, an average of about 15 percent last week said
they might still switch.
But more and more voters have already taken advantage of
early voting programs and cast their ballots. Eighteen percent
of respondents in the Reuters/Ipsos poll said their votes were
The U.S. election is not a true national poll, but a
state-by-state contest in which 538 electoral votes are divided
among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., roughly according to
With the majority of states solidly either Republican or
Democratic, the fight for the "swing states" not firmly tied to
either party is hugely important.
This year, there is a possibility one candidate could take
enough states to win the electoral vote - and thus the White
House - while trailing in the nationwide popular vote.
That last happened in the bitterly contested election of
2000, when Democrat Al Gore won half a million more votes
nationally than Bush, but the Republican won the presidency
because he ended up with more electoral votes.