Update: More event cancellations and a statement from Romney communications director Gail Gitcho: “Out of sensitivity for the millions of Americans in the path of Hurricane Sandy, we are canceling tonight’s events with Governor Romney in Wisconsin and Congressman Ryan in Melbourne and Lakeland, Florida. We are also canceling all events currently schedule for both Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan on Tuesday. Governor Romney believes this is a time for the nation and its leaders to come together to focus on those Americans who are in harms way. We will provide additional details regarding Governor Romney’s and Congressman Ryan’s schedule when they are available.”
First and foremost: if you’re in the path of Hurricane Sandy, pay close attention to emergency instructions, and may you and your family weather the storm without injury. As New Jersey Governor Chris Christie put it: “Don’t panic and don’t be stupid.”
The uncomfortable timing of this massive hybrid storm, which may well prove to be the “storm of the century,” is likely to have some impact on the presidential election. Sandy is voting early, in quite a few of the most hotly contested swing states. The Washington Post reports that early voting has been suspended in Maryland and the District of Columbia. No word as of yet on whether early voting will resume Tuesday. Meanwhile, early voting in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire continues apace, as it is conducted entirely by mail.
The final days before an election feature a lot of door-to-door campaigning and get-out-the-vote efforts, which will obviously be disrupted by the storm, as will media coverage of campaign events. The net effect of this disruption on the election would likely depend upon exactly which areas are most seriously affected, and whether there is still lingering damage to roads and power systems on Election Day, which has become last call for those who didn’t vote early. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell promised to take all possible measures to ensure the polls would be open on Election Day, saying “we’ll be ready, but we’re planning for contingencies if there’s still a problem.”
Both candidates will be affected by travel disruptions. The New York Times notes “the storm forced both candidates to scrap campaign stops and, with eight days until Election Day, will require Mr. Obama to balance the roles of president in an emergency and candidate.” The President canceled campaign events in Florida, Ohio, and Colorado in order to head back to the White House and “monitor” the storm.
This decision has already attracted some derision because it seems like an exercise in defensive “optics” rather than a realistic requirement of the office – we’ve been assured repeatedly over the last few years that when Obama travels, he brings the full resources of the White House with him, and in any event he is neither the director of FEMA nor a meteorologist. (And is the direct path of the oncoming storm the ideal location for the President?) Still, the President would probably have taken heat for the contrary “optics” of remaining on the campaign trail while the storm wreaks havoc, and the Romney campaign must also consider the optics of intense campaigning while a natural disaster is unfolding.
According to CNN, both Mitt Romney and Joe Biden had to cancel campaign stops in Virginia as Hurricane Sandy bore down, and campaign events in New Hampshire were canceled by Biden, Mitt Romney, and Ann Romney. This was partially due to a desire to avoid drawing resources away from disaster relief efforts in the affected states, as security considerations for such high-profile visits are a strain on local governments. ABC News counts a total of 19 campaign events thus far canceled or rescheduled by both teams due to the storm, further noting that the Romney campaign has been using its tour bus to distribute hurricane relief supplies in Virginia.
“Both campaigns said they were suspending fundraising e-mails to supporters in Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Jersey and the District of Columbia,” adds CNN.
On the campaign trail in Connecticut, former president Bill Clinton proceeded to politicize the living hell out of Hurricane Sandy: “We’re coming down to the eleventh hour. We’re facing a violent storm. It’s nothing compared to the storm we’ll face if you don’t make the right decision in this election.” Stay classy, Mr. Clinton!