As the remnants of Hurricane Sandy begin to dissipate, the 2012 presidential election re-emerges into the spotlight. There is no doubt that the hurricane has added a completely new dimension to the election, but both candidates could emerge from this catastrophe with a political advantage.
I would like to stress that I am not implying in any way that either candidate is using the hurricane as political football to score points in the upcoming election. As the nation learned from Hurricane Katrina, the mixing of politics and national disasters has real life consequences, and should not be taken lightly or irrelevantly. But, as a novice political commentator, it is my job to see how this storm can effect the outcome of the race.
The impact of Hurricane Sandy may help the Romney campaign in the following ways. First, the loss of power and mobility in several swing states (Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, etc.) will likely prevent voters from accessing early voting options. To date, President Obama has had a distinct advantage with early voters. The current disruption of ballot access to his supporters could have an ill effect in the long run should those voters not have another opportunity or the will to vote late this week or next Tuesday.
As the chief executive officer of the American government, the president is going to be the figurehead of whatever measures the federal government/FEMA take. The potential for epic failure is very real here. The memories of Hurricane Katrina still weigh heavily on the minds of many Americans. Could you imagine the impact on the course of history if Hurricane Katrina had happened a year earlier, when former President Bush was in the middle of a heated re-election race with former Senator Kerry?
That being said, Obama's role in hurricane cleanup is a double-edged sword. So far, the government's efforts have been largely successful. The president even earned unqualified praise from one of his harshest critics, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. If the recovery efforts go well, this will make the president appear ever more the competent administrator and genuine leader that his campaign has been trying to stress he is, simultaneously making former Governor Mitt Romney look more and more like an outsider.
The loss of electricity could also help the president's re-election efforts. In the days leading up to the election, politicos have been waiting for the Romney-Ryan campaign to launch its much anticipated media blitz. That ad strategy would make less of an impact if the targeted television sets in the battleground states don't have power.
This week, we were all reminded that politics doesn't occur in a vacuum. Real people make up their minds while living in a constantly changing world. The politics of natural disasters can have just as much of an impact on elections as the economy or foreign policy. Both presidential candidates are going to have to react to forces beyond their control, both during their campaigns and during their terms in office, should they be elected.
So far, I have to give the edge to Obama due to the government's perceived successful response to the storm. (I am not implying that he is either responsible or not responsible for the response, only that he is the current figurehead of the government.) But the final impact of the storm won't be felt until next week, when this whole election season (finally) draws to a close.