By Lisa Lambert
COLUMBUS, Ohio, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Pulled back to Washington to address the storm pounding the East Coast just days before the presidential election, President Barack Obama passed his campaign banner on Monday to Vice President Joe Biden and the man he has anointed his "Secretary of Explaining Stuff," former President Bill Clinton.
Biden and Clinton joined forces at a rally in the key battleground state of Ohio, where they sought to keep alive the Obama campaign strategy of combining rallies and other personal contact with a push for early voting by Democrats ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
Obama cut short a campaign trip to Florida to deal with Hurricane Sandy, threatening much of the East Coast.
"We went to Florida last night and he got up this morning and called me and said, 'I gotta go back right now. This storm is getting out of hand, I gotta handle it,'" Clinton told the crowd of 4,800 at the Covelli Centre, an ice rink in Youngstown. "And I said 'Mr. President that is the right call'."
Clinton evoked Obama through stories and jokes, personalizing the president while running through a list of arguments against Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Clinton joked that the audience was "stuck" with him because his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "has one of the two jobs in the government that doesn't permit you to be in politics."
Ohio is one of the "epicenters" of the election, according to Biden, and both Obama and Romney had planned on blanketing the state in the final days leading up to the election.
"If we win Ohio, we win this election," Biden said. pressing supporters to get out to vote.
Romney has caught up with Obama in national opinion polls and gained ground against the Democrat in surveys in Ohio too. A Rasmussen poll on Monday showed the former Massachusetts governor ahead by 50 percent to 48 percent.
The Republican also canceled campaign events on Monday night and Tuesday in Milwaukee, Iowa and Florida out of respect for the tens of millions in danger from Sandy.
The Democrats are sparing no effort to get people to the polls before election day, and many of their events in Ohio are targeted at building enthusiasm for early voting. According to Gallup, 15 percent of Obama's supporters have already voted and 33 percent intent to vote early, compared with 17 percent of Romney voters who have voted and 34 percent planning to vote.
Even though Biden dropped in on campaign offices and delivered a rousing speech in Ohio, he could not completely escape the reach of the storm and had to cancel events scheduled there for Tuesday.
Marilyn Ettinger, an Ohio woman standing inside the Covelli Centre as hail pounded outside, said she had already voted, but was worried that the storm would prevent others from doing the same. She had driven an hour for the event.
Ettinger said she had already missed seeing Obama at another event, in Cleveland, due to weather and was disappointed he would not be in Youngstown. "But the last time I saw Clinton was the last day before he won his second term, so I'm hoping that today I bring good luck to Obama."