AP Political Writer
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Two weekend rallies in Virginia's close presidential race have been canceled and others will likely fall victim to Hurricane Sandy, the mega-storm predicted to cause extensive damage in this electoral battleground a week before Election Day.
Officials also began bracing for power outages and other storm damage that could force polling places to move on Nov. 6.
Republican Mitt Romney's Sunday rally and Democratic Vice President Joe Biden's Saturday event were scrubbed Friday in advance of Sandy's expected Mid-Atlantic landfall later in the week.
Romney had not immediately canceled two other Sunday appearances at Haymarket, about 35 miles west of Washington, D.C., and another in Richmond. On Saturday, Biden's rally in Lynchburg and northern Virginia appearances by Romney's wife, Ann, will proceed.
President Barack Obama's campaign said it is monitoring the storm and assessing whether to cancel a Monday rally with Obama and former President Bill Clinton in Prince William County, a suburb of Washington.
Polls show Obama and Romney deadlocked in their quest for Virginia's 13 electoral votes.
In the U.S. Senate campaign, Saturday campaign events remained on track for Democrat Tim Kaine in Hampton Roads and Republican George Allen in northern Virginia and Fredericksburg. There was no word on Sunday plans for the two former governors.
With tropical storm-force winds predicted to span hundreds of miles from the storm's center, most of Virginia will feel the storm's effects, said Gov. Bob McDonnell. That's unprecedented so close to Election Day, he said.
"We're used to having hurricanes, we're just not used to having one in late October," said McDonnell, a Republican. The contest could help determine whether Democrats retain their slim U.S. Senate majority.
The slow-moving storm is expected to lash eastern Virginia with rains driven by gusts up to 80 mph winds in coastal areas and up to 50 mph in central Virginia, the state's most populous region. Along the mountainous western ridge of Virginia, the storm is expected to produce heavy snow.
"This is still an unpredictable weather event but one that is a possibly very dangerous weather event for the Commonwealth of Virginia," McDonnell said in a news conference, urging residents not to venture away from home.
"It just doesn't make sense to risk coming across debris or downed power lines," said McDonnell, a key supporter and high-profile campaign proxy for Romney.
He said Romney's campaign canceled his Virginia Beach event after he voiced concern about a major gathering demanding the attention of police and other emergency personnel as the leading edge of the storm approaches the Virginia coast.
Asked whether candidates should entice thousands of supporters to attend rallies Sunday and Monday despite his appeal to stay home, McDonnell said that's up to the campaigns.
"I expect both candidates in both parties to be monitoring the situation, and if they think they're going to be interfering with first-responder operations," McDonnell said. "Obviously they're not going to get coverage or get people coming out because they're not going to stand in the rain. They'd be smart to make alternative plans."
The dilemma would likely become moot, however, if the storm shutters airports.
Virginia's dominant power utility, Dominion, said it is making polling places left without electricity at the top of the list for restoration efforts after the storm passes.
McDonnell said during a news conference that he even had authority to delay elections under extreme emergencies.
"I've actually got latitude in the state code to actually delay an election, though that would be highly unlikely and improbable based on what we know so far," McDonnell said in a news conference.
State law allows Virginia's governor to postpone some elections up to 14 days during times when an emergency is declared either by the president or the governor. McDonnell declared an emergency Friday.
In a press statement later, McDonnell said a closer review of the law grants him no authority to reschedule presidential or other federal elections.
Va. Storm road condition updates: http://www.511virginia.org/
Virginia Emergency Management updates: http://www.vaemergency.gov/readyvirginia
State Board of Elections: http://www.sbe.virginia.gov/
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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