By TOM RAUM, Associated Press
President Barack Obama and rival Mitt Romney are both carefully navigating a path through disaster politics.
Both want to show their main focus isn't on the election just a week away but on relief and cleanup from one of the worst-ever storms to slam the East Coast and to show compassion for victims.
But with the race so close — both in the polls and on the calendar — the stakes remain enormous. And while active campaigning was dialed back by both candidates, the contest still simmered.
The sprawling storm that began as Hurricane Sandy could help Obama if voters approve of his leadership during the crisis.
Playing the presidential card, he canceled all campaign events Tuesday and Wednesday and held a late-morning conference call with storm-state governors and mayors.
He declared major disaster areas within hard-hit New York and New Jersey, drawing praise from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Christie, a Republican Romney supporter, said he and Obama talked several times Monday, including a call at midnight. He said Obama gave him a direct phone number to reach him and promised to expedite federal aid. The president and federal disaster officials "have been outstanding with us so far," said Christie.
Obama earlier declared other states along the storm's path as disaster areas eligible for quick federal help.
Lacking a formal role, Romney Tuesday attended a "storm relief event" near Dayton, Ohio, and was helping to collect canned goods and other donations for storm victims. Never mind that Ohio is a must-win swing state or that Romney shared the stage with popular NASCAR driver Richard Petty and country music singer Randy Owen.
"We're looking for all the help we can get for families in need," Romney told the crowd.
Running mate Rep. Paul Ryan and Ann Romney separately participated in storm-relief events.
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