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Will Sandy Add Another Twist to Tight Race?

Will Sandy Add Another Twist to Tight Race?

By Alexis Simendinger - October 29, 2012


President Obama, plowing into the final week of what he calls his last campaign, cannot realistically gauge how Hurricane Sandy might change his fortunes in a election so close it could shift in a breeze, let alone a gale.

What meteorologists dubbed "Frankenstorm" is expected to be gone by Nov. 6, but its effects on voters’ thinking may linger -- and could affect the president’s chances for a second term. Research has shown that public distress after disasters and grim economic events can make voters select their leaders based on how they feel about life in the moment, more than what they know over time.

With a presidential election eight days away, Sandy’s unsettling impact -- including any U.S. fatalities -- could make a difference in some voters’ thinking during this final week, particularly because up to 50 million people could experience the storm’s effects.

Power outages, government closures, and transportation interruptions will alter early-voting, mail service, plus door-to-door canvassing and phone-banking in some areas of the Northeast for a day or more. For example, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said early voting would be canceled in his state Monday because of the storm.

Depending on events, Obama and Romney could decide to pull campaign attack ads in some states in the last week. The weather emergency scrambled their travel itineraries over the weekend: Romney shifted appearances in Virginia to Ohio, and Obama scrapped rallies in Northern Virginia, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Youngstown, Ohio. (President Clinton and Vice President Biden are to be Obama’s stand-ins Monday in Youngstown.)

White House and campaign officials said Obama’s political schedule this week will be overtaken by presidential responsibilities during a hurricane.

Asked if Sandy would impact voting, Obama told reporters Sunday afternoon, “We don't anticipate that at this point, but we're obviously going to have to take a look.”

The president said his primary attention was focused on public safety. “This hasn't hit landfall yet, so we don't yet know where it's going to hit, where we're going to see the biggest impacts,” he said during a Sunday briefing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “And that's exactly why it's so important for us to respond big and respond fast as local information starts coming in.”

For days, operations of all sorts on the Atlantic Coast will slow, costing businesses money, and scrambling schedules for tens of millions of people. On Sunday, much of the federal government in Washington prepared to shutter Monday; public and private schools canceled classes; airlines rerouted flights; and Amtrak halted service in the Northeast corridor. Up and down the coast, power and cable companies warned customers of expected outages, and businesses girded for anticipated losses. Petroleum refineries along the Atlantic seaboard took a wait-and-see approach Sunday, poised to cut rates or shut down, if necessary. Officials warned New Jersey residents and business owners to prepare to shelter in place for up to a week.

The impact on the economy from what could be the largest hurricane to hit the U.S. land mass in years was impossible to project on Sunday, but was expected to be significant, experts said.

History provides examples of politicians who have prospered by capably handling natural disasters and emergencies. For example, Twitter was full of confident chatter Sunday about how New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg would reckon with a rare, hybrid storm.

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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