We’re a week out of the election and the presidential race has suddenly become the back-page story to one of the worst natural disasters the country has had to deal with in recent memory.
With just seven days to go in one of the tightest presidential races in American history, the Sandy even has become one of the biggest chapters in election 2012. With the eleventh hour in this contest fast approach, Sandy may be a short chapter, but it may also be the most crucial.
With both President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney statistically tied in the polls, each candidate is looking for any sort of edge that will propel them to victory over the next week.
A new NPR poll shows that Romney has a 1 percentage point lead [nationally] ... The president led by 4 percentage points in the smaller sample of 466 voters in 12 vital battle ground states: Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. ... Both the Romney lead and the Obama lead were within the poll's margin of error."
The Daily Kos/SEIU State of the Nation Poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, shows Obama and Romney tied at 49. Obama's up 59-41 among those who have already voted. Romney's up 53-44 among those who plan to vote on Election Day.
Washington Post/ABC tracking: Tied at 49.
Pew Research Center: Tied at 47.
Gallup tracking: Romney up 5 (51-46). They find that 15 percent of registered voters nationwide have already voted.
CNN of Colorado: Romney up 1 (48-47).
According to these polls, then, the most basic assumption we can come to is that Romney seems to be winning the popular vote, but Obama is taking the all-important Electoral College (really the only thing that matters here).
The one thing that the polls can’t account for in any measurable way, is the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the minds of voters.
Sandy is an October surprise of epic magnitude. A mega storm that ripped apart America’s most populated region.
How both candidates react to Hurricane Sandy now becomes paramount. Romney will have to walk the most awkward and (for him in this election) hazardous path as he navigates through the political chaos of post-storm clean-up. Romney, who has been surfing a wave of momentum in October, has to find a way to keep campaigning in states that weren't affected, without looking cheap or opportunistic. Looking presidential without actually being president can be tough to do.
Romney can’t have a Paul Ryan-in-the-soup-kitchen moment here, one of the Romney campaign's most cringe-worthy moments, when the Republican VP breezed through a soup kitchen in Youngstown, Ohio, after the homeless patrons had left for the morning, put on a crispy-white apron and scrubbed a pot that appeared to the pool to already be clean. No, Romney has to do more of this:
Smile, wear jeans, act cool, don’t get in anybody’s way, make sure you’re solemn about everything.
Romney has everything to lose. Obama, on the other hand, has everything to gain.
President Obama has been doing his day job, has a natural platform and can command a national audience at any moment. For him, his reaction to Sandy doesn’t look cheap, but commanding and strong.
So far he’s looked exactly that. The president has been seen as calm and capable so far in this crisis, putting politics aside to focus on what’s best for the country.
Obama said at a visit to Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C., that he wants people affected by the storm to know "America is with you," and praised the coordination between state and local officials.
Obama said his message to government officials is "no bureaucracy. No red tape."
"Obviously this is something that is heartbreaking for the entire nation," Obama said.
One White House official who spoke to the Daily Beast describe Obama through Sandy’s Monday night landfall: "Throughout the night, the President was updated on the impacts of Sandy as it came ashore and moved inland. Overnight the President also spoke with New York Governor Cuomo, New Jersey Governor Christie, New York City Mayor Bloomberg, Jersey City Mayor Healy and Newark Mayor Booker. The President will also receive another briefing this a.m. Overnight the President also provided major disaster declarations for the states of New Jersey and New York - building on resources already available - and providing additional federal support for state and local efforts, as well as direct federal assistance to affected individuals in declared counties."
Even hardcore Romney supporter and rumored future Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie said Obama is doing a good job. Christie, to George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "Good Morning America" said this a.m. that Obama "called me last night around midnight ... to ask what else could be done [and] offered any other assets that we need ... I have to say the administration, the President himself and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate have been outstanding with us so far. We have a great partnership with them, and I want to thank the president personally for his personal attention to this."
Tomorrow Obama will be in New Jersey surveying the storm damage with the NJ Governor.
Still, Romney could see Sandy swing to his advantage … especially if the president completely drops the ball on federal government storm relief efforts. Were Obama to muff this crisis, people would naturally come running to the former governor as a foil to the president. Still, this scenario is highly unlikely. Obama doesn’t have the same humanitarian disaster on his hands that his predecessor, George W. Bush, had with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The situation in New York is more streamlined, more controlled. The president had the fore-sight to preemptively provide New York and New Jersey with disaster relief, then immediately after the storm declared "major disasters" in New York and New Jersey, opening up a flood (no pun intended) of federal money to help the storm-ravaged area. More so, Romney doesn’t have the ability to play the you-failed-with-Sandy card so soon after the disaster. The former governor can only sit on the fence and watch as the president either succeeds … or fails … with this event.
Obama knows what’s at stake with Sandy. For him, the storm (political, not meteorological) doesn’t end for another seven days.
If he manages this disaster appropriately, it could be the October surprise that turned one of the tightest elections in U.S. history in the incumbent’s favor.
Sandy will have had the only vote that mattered in all of this