In late August, Hurricane Issac threatened Tampa and forced Republicans to scramble the schedule of their convention nominating Mitt Romney. Now, a week before Election Day, when Romney had shown some signs of gaining steam, the campaign has been frozen in place by Hurricane/superstorm Sandy. Toby Harnden makes the case for why this helps President Obama, because he gets to play the role of a president overseeing a response to a disaster, while Romney cannot campaign as aggressively because he wants to strike the right tone at a time when Americans are looking at images of the devastation. Since Harnden wrote that piece, Obama has visited the Red Cross today and is scheduled to tour the storm damage with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie tomorrow. Romney, meanwhile, is resuming campaigning in Florida tomorrow, after doing a relief event in Ohio today.
The first presidential debate was so important for Romney because it elevated him in the public consciousness to an equal of Obama. In his response to Sandy, Obama could potentially undermine these gains by appearing as if he’s on top of the disaster response, while Romney has no official role and is handcuffed in the type of campaigning he can do. In such a close race, this may make enough undecideds comfortable with the idea of sticking with Obama to tilt the balance in his favor.
All of that said, perhaps still undecided voters will discount the storm response as a factor in their decision, or even cynically dismiss any Obama appearances as another form of politicking. After all, Obama’s ads are still running, and Bill Clinton is out there still campaigning for him. So it’s not like the actual campaign is suspended.