With eight days to go until voters head to the polls to elect the next president, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are being forced to alter their campaign schedules because of Hurricane Sandy.

In preparation for the superstorm, which is expected to wreak havoc along the mid-Atlantic coast, President Obama headed back to the White House–and off the campaign trail. He has canceled scheduled appearances in the critical swing states of Florida, Ohio, Colorado and Virginia. Romney, meanwhile, nixed a Sunday event in Virginia and canceled a previously scheduled campaign stop in New Hampshire on Tuesday.

Both candidates have also halted fundraising appeals in some of the states that will be affected by the hurricane: New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C. (but not in New York).

As NBC News’ First Read pointed out, the severe weather on the East Coast will effectively erase two, maybe three, days off the campaign trail for each candidate. Moreover, it takes some of the key battleground states–Virginia and New Hampshire–out of play for at least the rest of the week, and possibly right up to Election Day. It also adds new questions to the election equation:

How does this impact the campaign? Does it halt Romney’s perceived momentum? Does it complicate the Obama campaign’s early-vote strategy, especially in Virginia? Or does it give Obama a chance to look presidential?

First Read speculates that the impact of the storm on the campaign could ultimately help Obama:

The person in the real bind right now is Romney. What does he do that doesn’t look overly-political or insensitive? He has no specific job right now.

… You can also argue that any freeze in the campaign benefits Obama. Why? Because it stops any PERCEPTION of Romney’s momentum. Now, the Obama campaign argued on Friday to NBC News that talk about Romney’s momentum has been overblown the past couple of weeks, since Romney hasn’t made up more ground in the battleground states since mid-October. “His momentum narrative does have an impact on how people view the race on the ground in the states,” an Obama campaign official said, per NBC’s Mike O’Brien. “And we wanted to correct it.”

Still, despite the imminent threat of the hurricane, a plethora of campaign events are still planned to go on. Obama may be off the trail, but campaign surrogate Bill Clinton is most definitely on it: He has a solo event early Monday in Florida, and another event later the same day in Ohio with Vice President Joe Biden. First lady Michelle Obama, meanwhile, will be out stumping in Iowa. Romney has juggled his campaign schedule and will be making appearances on Monday in Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa. His running mate, Paul Ryan, will be in Florida.

— Posted by Tracy Bloom.

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