The worst nightmare of any presidential candidate is the unanticipated eleventh hour event that could materially impact the election. Hurricane Sandy may be just such an event in 2012. Superficially it has already altered the strategies of both campaigns and its full consequence may not be known until after the election.
First, both campaigns were scheduled to actively campaign in places that are right in the path of the hurricane. President Obama has opted to cancel campaign events and to stay in the White House and look concerned and “presidential.” While I think that this is a purely political move I also think that it is a smart one. After going to bed during the heat of the Libyan battle where four Americans lost their lives and then immediately flying off to Las Vegas for a campaign fund-raiser after only brief comments, the President cannot risk campaigning in the field if there is serious damage from Sandy.
Governor Romney originally shifted away from planned stops in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania to stops in Ohio but has now cancelled 15 different campaign events over the next two days. Today, the Governor told a crowd in Ohio:
We’ve faced these kinds of challenges before and as we have it’s interesting to see how American’s come together and this, this looks like another time when we need to come together all across the country, even here in Ohio, and make sure that we give our support to the people who need it.
. . .
You with full hearts and clear eyes can see what’s happening across the country right now. And on the eastern coast of our nation a lot of people are enduring some very difficult times. And our hearts and our prayers go to them as we think about how tough it’s going to be there. (ABC News)
The consequences to the campaign could be far more significant than the mere rescheduling of campaign events. First and most importantly, the media is not talking about anything but Sandy today taking focus off of a campaign that would otherwise dominate the day’s news. This is both good and bad for both candidates. On Friday, Fox News issued a startling report about orders from the Obama Administration to former SEALs to stand down and not support the defense of the besieged American Consulate in Benghazi. President Obama spent much of Friday ducking questions from the media about that report and looked very defensive in the process. Sandy gives him a respite from these attacks and allows his campaign to regroup.
Republicans have tried to keep the issue alive, but those attempts have largely been lost in the reporting of Sandy. In a sharply worded Oct. 29 letter, the top U.S. House Armed Services Committee Republican, told President Obama that his recounting of the events around a deadly attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya sounds “implausible.” That charge came in a letter from Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., to Obama. It is the latest criticism congressional Republicans have launched at Obama or his top Cabinet officials about their handling of a deadly attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. (Defense News)
Sandy will also have a negative media impact for the President as he tries to stem the tide of momentum started by Governor Romney after the last debate. Obama had planned a series of events and speeches to “refocus” attention aback on what he consider “critical campaign issues.” That will have to wait as the President rides out the storm.
The potential impact of Sandy on voter turnout could also be significant. While there is some worry that Sandy will have a minor impact on early absentee voters which would benefit Governor Romney, there is serious concern in the Obama camp that the storm will significantly impact turnout on election day severely impacting the President. Historically Republican voters will turn out in better numbers under difficult circumstances than will Democratic voters. Any significant impact on turnout will blow open a race that is currently only be held together on the President’s side by polls which are counting on voter turnout virtually identical to 2008 to keep the election close. Any significant fall off in Democratic voting or increase in Republican voting will turn this perceived “close race” into a blow out. As I have written here repeatedly, I think that this is going to be a Romney blow out. (Thinking Right)
The great wildcard in all of this is the final outcome of the damage caused by Sandy. If there is significant damage or loss of life the nation could rally behind a President that properly handles the crisis. That would be a difficult balancing act for the President because he would also have to avoid be viewed as “politicizing” a tragedy. Similarly Governor Romney has to walk that tight-rope very carefully and he lacks one arrow in his quiver enjoyed by the President, a malleable press that will bend over backwards to make Mr. Obama look good. It will be interesting.
Now before you start accusing me of politicizing a natural disaster please consider the following. At the time of the writing of this piece, there have been no deaths and no major destruction, just a lot of flooded roads. While it looks like it is going to be bad, we really don’t know how bad the damage will be. My sister and some of my best friends are in the direct path of the storm and I am actively monitoring their well-being. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in harm’s way and we hope that any damage or loss of life is avoided or minimized. Besides, almost anytime someone says that somebody is “politicizing” something (i.e. President Obama’s camp with Libya), it almost always means that they have screwed things up and are trying to quickly change the subject.
I hope that there is little or no damage from Sandy and that the point of this story is moot - either way, everyone please stay safe.