Five things to watch for in the final week of the presidential race between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney:
1. SANDY: The Superstorm barreling up the East Coast is threatening several important battleground states – Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio and New Hampshire. Already it’s caused both candidates and their running mates to shuffle campaign travel schedules. Widespread power outages are likely, meaning weary voters in the storm’s path may get a reprieve from the TV ads and automated calls flooding their homes. Beyond that, it’s unclear just how much impact the storm will have on the race.
2. GOVERNING OBAMA: Obama has spent months trying to balance his re-election bid with running the government. Now his official job is beckoning – just when his campaign needs him the most, with little more than a week before the election. It provides Obama with an opportunity to show leadership in real time. But it also presents risks – and if he’s not careful, Obama could open himself up to criticism that he’s putting politics over safety.
3. EXPANDING THE MAP?: Mindful that he has fewer paths to reach the 270 Electoral College votes needed for victory, Romney advisers are considering sending Romney, running mate Paul Ryan or both to Minnesota. The state hasn’t gone Republican in the presidential race since 1972, but recent polling shows a tighter race there than most anticipated. Obama is seeking to defend historically Democratic turf, dispatching Vice President Joe Biden to campaign Thursday in Pennsylvania.
4. ALL ABOUT OHIO: Polls are showing a tightening race in the all-important battleground state. Obama has a significant edge in the early vote, and has a stronger get-out-the-vote organization than Romney. The president can lose the state and still reach the magic number. It’s hard to see how Romney wins without Ohio; he’d have to cut into traditionally Democratic territory – where he trails Obama in polling – to make up for the 18 votes Ohio offers.
5. JOBS REPORT: The final unemployment rate report comes Friday – just four days before Election Day. The economy remains voters’ No. 1 concern, and in the final week both candidates are pitching themselves as the strongest steward for a nation slowly recovering from the recession. Romney seized on last week’s latest snapshot of economic growth that showed the U.S. recovery remains tepid. Expect more of the same Friday.