Hurricane Sandy: Growing seriousness of storm threat

Mark Mardell
North America editor
@BBCMarkMardellon Twitter

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President Obama boards flight to return from OrlandoImage source, AP

President Obama was in Florida overnight, but he has pulled out of Monday's planned event in the state with former President Bill Clinton.

He's going straight back to the White House to monitor the course of Hurricane Sandy owing to "deteriorating weather conditions in the Washington area".

It may be simply that he doesn't want to get stranded.

But it may also be that he thought it would sound inappropriate to make a campaign speech which would have to have attacked his opponent and sounded at least a little upbeat.

It is a sign of the growing seriousness of the threat. All yesterday the president's plans changed, first cancelling events, then putting them back in the programme, then cancelling them again.

While no-one really knows whether this storm will create chaos or full-scale national catastrophe, the political effects are already being felt.

Spotlight on Obama

In one sense it stops, freezes, the campaign at this point. The candidates won't be talking and if they were, the media wouldn't be spending much time reporting what they said.

But in another sense it puts the president, the leader of the country, centre stage. It's an unequal platform, though, and Mitt Romney may find himself pushed off it while the drama unfolds.

The spotlight is on Mr Obama. The president gets to display his mettle, to show what sort of a leader he is.

He is also the number one target if the government reaction is slow, inadequate or simply, dangerously, if there is suffering that they can't relieve.

We are all nervous about this storm. We all hope there will be no loss of life. But for the two men vying for the White House, it may spell the difference between political survival and extinction.