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.”
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.