Hurricane Sandy swallows presidential campaign
An Obama campaign sign rises above the floodwaters as rain continues to fall in a neighborhood in Norfolk, VA., Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. / AP
With the presidential election just over a week away, the candidates would normally be campaigning in the swing states in an effort to gain a last-minute edge in what is expected to be a razor-thin race.
But with Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the eastern seaboard, the men at the top of the ticket are putting their campaigns on hold. And both sides are scrambling to figure out what impact the storm will have on who emerges victorious next Tuesday.
President Obama cancelled a Monday campaign stop in Florida and Tuesday stops in Wisconsin and Colorado to monitor the storm in Washington. After briefing reporters about storm preparations Monday afternoon and urging Americans to listen to local and state officials, he was asked about the impact it will have on the campaign. The president said he is "not worried at this point on the impact on the election."
"The election will take care of itself next week, right now our number one priority is to make sure we are saving lives," he added.
Mitt Romney, meanwhile, cancelled events in New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Virginia, though he did hold a campaign event in Ohio on Monday morning and plans to hold an afternoon event in Iowa. Like Mr. Obama and Vice President Biden, Romney and running mate Paul Ryan will be off the trail on Tuesday.
"Governor Romney believes this is a time for the nation and its leaders to come together to focus on those Americans who are in harms way," said Romney communications director Gail Gitcho. Romney is asking supporters in affected states to bring yard signs inside and for Americans to stay out of harms way; at his stop in Ohio Monday, he tacked a political appeal onto a call for Americans to donate to charity for storm relief.
"I know the people of the Atlantic coast are counting on Ohio and the rest of our states, but I also think the people of the entire nation are counting on Ohio," he said, "because my guess is, my guess is, if Ohio votes me in as president, I'll be the next president of the United States."
There has been no shortage of speculation over what impact the storm will have on the election. One thing that's clear is that it has thrown a wrench in both sides' carefully-calibrated plans for the final week of the campaign. With the storm dominating news coverage, the campaigns have been deprived of the nation's attention at a time when they would otherwise be making their closing argument to the public. That could mean the race is effectively frozen in place - a dynamic which would seem to favor the president, who polls show holds a narrow lead in enough swing states to get the 270 votes he needs to win reelection.
But the storm is also making it more difficult for Americans to get to the polls for early voting - something that David Axelrod, a top adviser to the president's campaign, said Sunday has him concerned.
"Obviously, we want unfettered access to the polls, because we believe that the more people come out, the better we're going to do," he told CNN. "And so, to the extent that it makes it harder, that's a source of concern." In addition to voters' ability to get to polling stations during the storm, there could also be problems related to early votes by mail getting to election officials in a timely manner.
Asked Sunday about the potential impact on voting, the president said, "We don't anticipate that at this point but we're obviously going to have to take a look." The problem could be less significant than it seems at first glance: Almost none of the swing states affected by the storm have early voting, and unless the storm is devastating, they should have their polling places up and running by next Tuesday. (Virginia does allow absentee voting in person before Election Day, but only for select residents.)
The president does not want to be seen as playing politics at a time of national crisis, and he is not expected to attack Romney on the stump until the worst of the storm has passed. It seems possible that the storm will ultimately help the president, since it provides him the opportunity to provide a steady hand during a crisis while looking, well, presidential. The potential downside: If the response to the storm is seen as botched, the blame will land at least to some extent at the president's feet. (Exhibit A: The beating President Bush took in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.)
On Monday afternoon, Mr. Obama sent an email to his campaign fundraising list encouraging supporters to visit ready.gov, listen to state and local officials and donate to the Red Cross. "Michelle and I are keeping everyone in the affected areas in our thoughts and prayers. Be safe," it read. The email was signed "Barack."
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