(CNN) – Both presidential candidates have canceled campaign events in the coming days as the East Coast prepares for a major storm, and Virginia's governor said Sunday his state would take measures to ensure residents are able to vote, despite potential obstacles brought on by Hurricane Sandy.
"We'll be ready, but we're planning for contingencies if there's still a problem," Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said on CNN's "State of the Union." He said his state would "absolutely" make polling centers like schools and fire stations a top priority for restoring power, should widespread outages occur.
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In Virginia, the effects of a major storm could linger until Election Day. Hundreds of thousands of customers in Northern Virginia lost power for more than week following Hurricane Irene in August 2011, and clean up efforts could be prioritized over making the trip to the polls.
Virginia offers early absentee voting only with an excuse, unlike other states which offer less restrictive ways to cast ballots before November 6. That means the race in the commonwealth will be won or lost on Election Day.
North Carolina and Maryland, two other states in the storm's projected path, offer in-person early voting, which has benefited Democrats in the past. Martin O'Malley, Maryland's Democratic governor, said Friday that early voting in his state could be affected by the storm.
In Delaware, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, residents only have the option of voting early by mail.
The approaching storm has already led both President Barack Obama's campaign and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney to modify campaign schedules.
Obama's final Monday campaign event in Virginia and first Tuesday event in Colorado were canceled, and the president will instead "return to the White House to continue to monitor Hurricane Sandy," Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement Saturday.
Earlier on Saturday, Romney canceled his Sunday events in Virginia and said he would instead join his running mate on a bus tour of Ohio.
Vice President Joe Biden also canceled a Saturday event in Virginia.
Romney is scheduled to campaign in Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin on Monday, then in Ohio and New Hampshire on Tuesday.
On CNN Sunday, top Obama aide David Axelrod said it was too early to tell how, if at all, the storm would affect the election.
"I don't think anybody really knows," Axelrod said. "Obviously we want unfettered access to the polls because we believe that the more people come out, the better we're going to do, and so to the extent that it makes it harder, you know, that's a source of concern. But I don't know how all the politics will sort out."
While Obama and Romney have a host of battlegrounds states to visit that are out of the storm's path – including Colorado, Iowa and Ohio – the consequences of a major storm would echo beyond mere logistics. A hurricane hitting the most densely populated section of the country would also suck media coverage from the campaign, as television networks and newspapers deploy resources to cover weather rather than politics.
It could also provide a contrast between the two candidates – one who is a sitting president, and one who wants to become one.
A strong leadership image of Obama making official tours of affected areas could boost his image in the eyes of voters; conversely, any missteps in the administration's response to the potential disaster would have damaging results.
In the statement, Carney said Obama "is being regularly updated on the storm and ongoing preparations, and he has directed his team to continue to bring all available resources to bear as state and local partners continue to prepare for the storm."
He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has "pre-staged resources" and that Obama "will continue to receive regular briefings."
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters earlier in the day that the campaign is "closely monitoring the storm, and we'll take all necessary precautions to make sure our staff and volunteers are safe."
Romney also faces opportunities and pitfalls. His response, like Obama's, will be closely monitored and evaluated for its tone. Rivals will be ready to pounce at any sign of politicization, while the candidate will also be able to bolster his image of a leader by making visits to damaged areas.
Romney made such a visit to New Orleans following Hurricane Isaac, the storm that forced organizers to cancel the first day of the Republican convention in August. That visit didn't generate any negative headlines for the candidate.
– CNN's Kevin Liptak, Gregory Wallace, Ashley Killough, and Steve Brusk contributed to this report