KETTERING, Ohio (AP) — Superstorm Sandy's mayhem is upending the final week of the presidential race, with President Barack Obama calling off another of the waning days left to campaign and Republican Mitt Romney struggling to strike the right tone as he tries to close the deal with voters.
The White House announced Tuesday that Obama will not go ahead with a Wednesday campaign swing through Ohio. He plans to remain in Washington to monitor recovery efforts for the storm that practically shut down New York City and spread damage across the East Coast.
Romney and running mate Paul Ryan initially announced they were canceling events out of sensitivity for the millions of Americans in Sandy's path. But with only a week left to try to toss Obama from office, the GOP campaign was back on Tuesday with events in the critical Midwestern swing states of Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin, albeit with changes to the program.
"We have heavy hearts, as you know, with all the suffering going on, in a major part of our country," Romney said before helping collect food donations for relief efforts. "A lot of people hurting this morning, they were hurting last night. And the storm goes on."
Romney spoke for less than five minutes and avoided politics at what his campaign billed as a "storm relief event" in the same Ohio gymnasium as his previously scheduled political rally and with the same entertainment from country music singer Randy Owen. The event was moved up four hours and there were none of the usual attacks on the president, who was at the White House overseeing the response.
Effusive praise for Obama's leadership came in Tuesday from a surprising source -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who has been campaigning for Romney across the country and who is a pointed Obama critic. He said in a series of morning television show interviews that Obama was in touch throughout the night as the storm struck New Jersey, including a call at midnight, and effectively expedited much-needed disaster relief.
"The president has been all over this and he deserves great credit," Christie told MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "I've been on the phone with him, like I said, yesterday personally three times. He gave me his number at the White House, told me to call him if I need anything, and he absolutely means it. It's been very good working with the president."
The White House said Obama was speaking frequently to other governors and mayors in affected areas. The White House released a photo of the president receiving an update on the response from the Situation Room.
"The president told his team that their top priority is to make sure all available resources are being provided to state and local responders as quickly as possible and directed them to identify and resolve any potential bottlenecks or shortfalls should they arise," the White House said in a statement.
Vice President Joe Biden participated in the videoconference from Ohio, where he spent part of the day holding in a Columbus hotel. First lady Michelle Obama had also called off her campaign events.
The president's campaign also tried to rise above the political fray in an email to supporters asking for donation to the Red Cross. "Soon enough we'll need to get back to work on the most important campaign of our lifetime," wrote campaign manager Jim Messina. "But the most important thing at this moment is that you and your loved ones are staying safe, and that the rest of us do what we can to help speed the recovery."
Millions were left without power as the deadly storm whipped its way through presidential battlegrounds like North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire and sprawled as far as the Great Lakes, where gales threatened Ohio's and Wisconsin's lakeside regions.
Romney helped collect grocery bags of donations from lined-up supporters after his brief remarks in Ohio, then headed outside to load bottled water, boxes of diapers and pallets of canned goods on a rented truck for delivery.
Romney refused to answer repeated shouted questions from reporters about how he would run the Federal Emergency Management Agency as president. He said during the Republican primary race that he wants to return control of some federal functions to the states.
Asked whether Romney favors additional federal aid to help recover and rebuild from Sandy, Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg responded: "A Romney-Ryan administration will always ensure that disaster funding is there for those in need. Period."
The storm wasn't entirely off limits from politics. Campaigning on Obama's behalf in Minnesota, former President Bill Clinton resurrected a line from Romney's GOP convention speech to suggest that he was flippant about Obama's advocacy of climate change legislation.
At the late August convention, Romney ridiculed Obama as someone who "promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise ... is to help you and your family."
"In my part of America,