Mother na­ture plays pol­i­tics

“Then again, this cam­paign al­ready has bro­ken a lot of old rules. Can­di­dates used to be loosely con­strained by the facts. Not so much any more.”

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - John Dick­er­son

HUR­RI­CANE Sandy has in­ter­rupted the cam­paign, which makes her the most im­por­tant woman in the swing states. Pol­i­tics has taken a pause, but we all know it is a tem­po­rary one. It is un­seemly to talk about pol­i­tics with so many peo­ple about to face gen­uine dan­ger. Then again, this cam­paign al­ready has bro­ken a lot of old rules. Can­di­dates used to be loosely con­strained by the facts. Not so much any more.

Can­di­dates used to be pro­hib­ited from mak­ing po­lit­i­cal at­tacks dur­ing a fresh na­tional se­cu­rity cri­sis. So it seems in­evitable that Sandy will be­come a po­lit­i­cal force. It is also fit­ting for a cam­paign that has so of­ten felt like a skir­mish on the side stage that here we are fac­ing deadly re­al­i­ties.

In a sense, though, this storm touches on what this cam­paign has al­ways been about: What should the fed­eral gov­ern­ment do and does it have the re­sources to do it? We are six days away from an elec­tion. This is the 2012 cam­paign's Oc­to­ber sur­prise. (Though given the way this cam­paign has un­folded, there might be a Novem­ber sur­prise.) Nat­u­ral dis­as­ters can hit pres­i­dents in two ways. In 2004, pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush vis­ited vic­tims of Hur­ri­cane Fran­cis in early Septem­ber as his party was hold­ing its con­ven­tion. He played the first re­spon­der role then. A year later, Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina side­tracked his pres­i­dency.

If pres­i­dents get more blame for a weak econ­omy than per­haps they de­serve, there are also mo­ments when there are po­lit­i­cal ben­e­fits to the of­fice. In times like this, Amer­i­cans Demo­crat and Repub­li­can alike - turn to gov­ern­ment.

Pres­i­dent Obama pulled him­self off the cam­paign trail on Mon­day and re­turned from Florida be­fore he at­tended a sin­gle event. He was not cam­paign­ing for at least two days. For the mo­ment, in the ma­jor story of the day, he has a key role. "I'm not wor­ried at this point about the im­pact on the elec­tion," said Obama. "I'm wor­ried about the im­pact on fam­i­lies." Still, there will be some po­et­i­cal cost or gain based on how his ad­min­is­tra­tion man­ages the dis­as­ter that all the fore­cast­ers say is com­ing. What does Mitt Rom­ney do?

Be­fore the storm hit, Rom­ney was try­ing to build the sense of a cam­paign that was ris­ing as it ap­proached the fin­ish line. His sup­port­ers are fired up like never be­fore, but he is not gain­ing on the pres­i­dent as he did af­ter the first de­bate.

The New York Times' Nate Sil­ver says they have re­turned to the con­di­tion they were in dur­ing the spring and sum­mer, which puts Obama in a bet­ter po­si­tion.

Rom­ney needs to cre­ate a band­wagon ef­fect to lure un­de­cided vot­ers. He can­celled his cam­paign events on Tues­day and the day be­fore. In the in­terim, it is hard to stay in the story with­out look­ing like he is seek­ing po­lit­i­cal gain.

His cam­paign in­formed re­porters that he was on the phone with the gov­er­nors of Vir­ginia and New Jersey, mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion. It is not quite clear what "mon­i­tor­ing" means in this con­text since he has no for­mal role to pay.

Rom­ney has also sus­pended his cam­paign fundrais­ing emails into the af­fected states, as has the pres­i­dent. All of this stopped ac­tiv­ity doesn't mean that the cam­paigns aren't try­ing to skewer each other un­der the ta­ble.

In Ohio, they are en­gaged in a heated fight over the auto bailout, an im­por­tant is­sue in the state where the econ­omy is closely tied to the car in­dus­try. On Sun­day, the Rom­ney cam­paign re­leased an ad sug­gest­ing Chrysler, a com­pany saved in the bailout and sold to Fiat, would be mak­ing cars in China.

It was an ex­ten­sion of a false claim made by Rom­ney that the firm would be mak­ing all cars in China. The Obama cam­paign re­sponded with its own ad. Rom­ney has been talk­ing a lot about bi­par­ti­san­ship lately on the stump. It ap­peals to those un­de­cided, mar­ried, subur­ban vot­ers he and the pres­i­dent need in the bat­tle­ground states.

The pres­i­dent has been try­ing to sound this theme, too. If they were both se­ri­ous about ap­peal­ing to those vot­ers, you could imag­ine one can­di­date of­fer­ing to have his vol­un­teers join with the other cam­paign in a re­lief ef­fort in the hard­esthit ar­eas of the states. The cam­paign that didn't think of this first would prob­a­bly de­cline, giv­ing the one that sug­gested the joint army of al­tru­ism the op­por­tu­nity to look above it all while caus­ing no prac­ti­cal prob­lem for the cam­paign.

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