WASHINGTON -- The close contest between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama is frozen.
This historic pre-election monster storm takes politics into an all new zone of the unknown as the news cycle is saturated with hurricane coverage -- and not the latest back-and-forth between Romney and Obama or their surrogates.
The Romney and Obama teams are proceeding with caution. The worst thing is to be seen as doing politics in the midst of a disaster.
That's why Obama and Romney pulled back on the campaigning Monday and canceled events for Tuesday. What they do from now on is a day-by-day call.
Here are five ways Hurricane Sandy is affecting the campaign:1. The campaign itself is over. The election is a week from Tuesday, so there are not many days the men can use to make up canceled appearences. It's unlikely that either will be stumping again in two battlegrounds where the storm is hitting, New Hampshire and Virginia.
2. Romney doesn't get to deliver his final arguments. For Romney, the quick swing of the press from the election to the hurricane slows down what had been a swelling media narrative that he is winning -- and has momentum on his side.
The freeze comes as Romney is more forcefully arguing that he's the agent of change -- appropriating Obama's 2008 campaign theme. "And I'm very proud of the fact that our team has worked very hard to focus on what we will do to bring real change, big change to a country that badly needs it," Romney said Monday in Avon Lake, Ohio.
3. Obama steps back into his role as president, not candidate. This comes as polls indeed show trends in Romney's favor. ABC News on Monday night moved Pennsylvania and Minnesota from "safe" states for Obama to "lean" for the president. The Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll out Monday had a 49-49 national tie.
After Obama's White House news briefing on federal storm preparations, he was asked, "What about the impact on the election, sir?
Obama said: "I am not worried at this point about the impact on the election. 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."
4. Early voting may end up playing to Obama's advantage. Though Romney's turnout operation is deeper than was Sen. John McCain's in 2008, the Obama team has been living and breathing the ground game. If the storm blows by quickly -- and power is restored -- lost early voting time can be made up.
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said Monday, "We continue to believe that, on the ground, we're going to be able to turn out our voters in these final days. We feel very good about our ground game. We just want everyone up there and across the country to be very safe."
5. The Friday jobless numbers -- the last report before Election Day -- may fade in importance as the nation grapples with the fallout from Hurricane Sandy. While most federal offices in Washington were closed Monday and were to remain shut Tuesday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said it was its "intention" to release October's report Friday.