By Steve Holland
DAVENPORT, Iowa (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was about to go on stage in Ohio on Monday when he decided to abruptly shift the tone of his campaign given the potentially lethal impact of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast.
With the storm bearing down, Romney canceled campaign events scheduled for Monday and Tuesday in Wisconsin, Iowa and Florida. Running mate Paul Ryan and Romney's wife, Ann, also stepped back from campaigning.
Romney instead adopted a feel-your-pain stance, taking time to talk up Americans' hardy can-do spirit in the face of uncertain odds. He urged people to donate to the Red Cross.
After deliberating by conference call with senior advisers - some of them traveling with Ryan and Ann Romney in several states - it was an easy call to make, aides said.
"We canceled the events out of sensitivity for the millions of people facing hardship because of the hurricane," said senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom.
The hurricane was the latest twist in Romney's second White House bid. Before taking on President Barack Obama in the general election campaign, Romney spent months in a bruising Republican primary fight in which he was rarely in the lead until near the end.
The former governor of Massachusetts appeared to have the momentum in the final lap of the presidential race, climbing in polls after recovering from the September release of a secretly recorded video in which he said 47 percent of Americans were dependent on government help.
A NEW TWIST
Now, Romney's campaign luster is likely to dim for a couple of days as Obama wins media attention as the nation's chief executive managing a crisis.
The Republican's aides said they had little choice but to put off campaigning given the storm's potential impact. They did not think Sandy would complicate the campaign's messaging over the next few days.
"I don't think it will at all," said a senior adviser. "While this is certainly important, the potential damage of this hurricane, the importance of the next four years are about bigger things longer term - the economy and jobs."
Aides said the campaign had been watching the storm since it first came into view last week and knew they had to act.
"We monitored the track and developments closely and adjusted our schedule accordingly as the need arose," said senior adviser Kevin Madden.
The hurricane forced the Romney campaign into some fancy footwork.
He had hoped to hold a campaign event on Tuesday in Wisconsin, which has not been won by a Republican presidential candidate in decades. It would back up the Romney camp's narrative that the Midwestern state is now in play given tightening polls there.
But with the storm blasting ashore along the East Coast, Romney made plans to go back to Ohio, the must-win state where he and Obama have been concentrating much of their energies.
In a move that gives him the appearance of being presidential, Romney told supporters he consulted with officials at the National Weather Service and at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He got an update on the progress of the storm, the status of the federal government's efforts to help state and local authorities and potential challenges in the hours and days ahead.
In Avon Lake, Ohio, Romney toned down some of his attacks on Obama and urged Americans to come together.
"We've faced these kinds of challenges before, and as we have, it's interesting how Americans come together, and this looks like another time when we need to come together all across the country," he said.
(Editing by Alistair Bell and Philip Barbara)