Hurricane Sandy's Political Impact: Obama and Romney Scramble, Voters Stay Away
With week ahead of a tightly contested presidential election, everything is political.
Hurricane Sandy, a so-called "perfect storm" that combines traditional tropical storm weather with snow and a full moon high tide, has already made landfall in Mid-Atlantic states and southern New Jersey. President Obama has canceled events in Florida, Ohio and Virginia that were scheduled for Monday, as well as a Tuesday event in Wisconsin; he is now in Washington DC to monitor the storm and direct outreach and relief efforts. Both Florida and - perhaps to a lesser degree - Wisconsin are swing states that Obama highly values; in his stead, Bill Clinton will appear in Florida.
Likewise, Mitt Romney, after first canceling an event in Virginia that was to have happened on Sunday, and a New Hampshire rally that was set for Tuesday, has now canceled all of his appearances for the next two days.
Both campaigns have suspended fundraising e-mails, instead sending out appeals for donations for hurricane victims.
Neither candidate will want to be seen making political hay of the hurricane, though it would not be surprising if Obama took liberal use of emergency airtime to address the nation and those in the hurricane's path; that could help him look "presidential," while a botched recovery effort would reflect poorly on his leadership. After addressing the nation Sunday, he will do so again at 12:45 pm EST on Monday.
On Sunday evening, a video of statements concerning FEMA that Romney made during a Republican debate last year began to go viral online. Then positioning himself as a "severe conservative" in order to win the GOP nomination, he said that he believed the federal government should not be involved in recovery efforts, but that instead, states should be empowered to do so. It may be an obscure issue in the face of what could be a disaster, a buzzed about piece of archival footage that excites partisans that have already aligned themselves with a candidate, but could also come up at a press conference with the Republican nominee.
As for the mechanics of the race, the storm could certainly interrupt early voting. Lines have already stretched for hours in states such as Maryland, which canceled its early voting on Monday. That state, however, is considered a safe one for Obama. Virginia largely does not have early voting -- one must have an excuse for not being able to vote on election day -- and it's too hard to tell if a potential power outage would stretch to next Tuesday.
Of course, there could be significant displacement of voters in various states, meaning that even if there is electricity, they will not be in their home voting regions to cast a ballot. And get out of the vote efforts could also be thwarted in the coming week.
Looking far forward, this storm will give lots of face time to various governors - including potential 2016 hopefuls Andrew Cuomo, of New York, and Chris Christie, of New Jersey.