As far as the rest of the country is concerned, Sandy might be pretty much a localized phenomenon — except that, almost diabolically, its broad reach encompasses key swing states: Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Ohio. It even took a swipe at Florida.
The storm disrupted the carefully crafted plans of the two presidential candidates for the critical last full week before the election. President Barack Obama cancelled an appearance in Ohio to return to Washington.
For Obama, the storm is a godsend. It gives him a final shot at “looking presidential” and even better (for him), it pushes his cynical response to the Benghazi attacks out of the headlines for at least a few more days.
Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan also canceled a series of appearances.
Through hard experience, campaign managers learn how to deal with the unpleasant and unexpected: gaffes, sex and financial scandals, wayward surrogates and the inevitable transportation and scheduling glitches.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina added a new element of the unforeseen to campaign planners’ arsenal of needed skills. The Bush administration’s ineffectual and seemingly indifferent response to that tragedy saddled the Republican campaign with baggage it could never shed, even though the primary responsibility for dropping the ball was at the local and state levels.
In the face of a convulsion of nature like Sandy, no candidate could abruptly decide that now was a good time to go campaigning in Arizona and New Mexico. Besides, how a campaign deals with a major, unexpected disruption is a good measure of the candidate’s and aides’ flexibility and competency in dealing with the unforeseen.
Because Sandy is hitting major population centers, it likely will affect the election, altering early voting, get-out-the-vote drives and last-minute, door-to-door campaigning. In Virginia’s Senate race, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen jointly asked their supporters to take down their yard signs lest the placards become injurious missiles in Sandy’s high winds.
The polls show that this could be the closest election since 2000, with debilitating recounts in toss-up states and possibly winding up in the House of Representatives. One scenario, not totally implausible, has Romney winning the presidency and Joe Biden remaining vice president. That would make for an entertaining next four years, though not necessarily productive ones.
After almost two years of campaigning, a brutal gauntlet of debates, primaries and caucuses, it would be an irony of the first magnitude if the next president of the United States was determined by a storm named Sandy.