As the president ended his briefing on Hurricane Sandy in the White House Situation Room and delivered a statement to reporters in the James Brady Briefing Room, the obvious question among press and pundits was, will his management of the disaster now wracking the northeast pay political dividends?
“I am not worried at this point about the impact on the election,” said Obama in his reply to the one question he took in the Briefing Room from CBS News’ Bill Plante, “ I’m worried about the impact on families, and I’m worried about the impact on our first responders. I’m worried about the impact on our economy and on transportation.”
Certainly, natural disasters and how heads of government deal with them can play pivotal roles on the eve of elections. The modern example most often cited is that of then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in 2002, when polls showed his SPD (Socialist) Party in a dead heat with that of conservative opponent Edmund Stoiber one week before the election. Suddenly, the Elbe River flooded and there was considerable damage. Schröder appeared on the scene managing relief efforts and was there for days until Stoiber arrived—the key reason, most analysts agreed, that his party clung to a lead in the parliament of seven seats, down from 21 in the previous session, and Schroder remained chancellor.
Veteran Republican pollster Chris Wilson, who is not associated with the Romney campaign, believes that Obama could indeed “pull a Schroder.”
“[Sandy] does give him the chance to look like a leader and appear Presidential at a critical juncture in the campaign,” Wilson told Human Events, “It’s possible that, particularly for very late deciding voters, seeing Obama leading the country in a moment of crisis could give him a critical boost. On the other hand, disaster response is a tricky business especially when major cities that aren’t used to this kind of disaster are involved. If the response is poor and the federal government looks as incompetent as it often is, Sandy could be the final blow that ends the Obama presidency.”
Wilson said that the White House responses to Sandy and Benghazi are “two stories that might, just might, change the outcome next Tuesday.”
Human Events also talked to another figure who has had first-hand experience with natural disasters and suffered considerably in the press for it: Michael Brown, sacked as Federal Emergency Management Administration boss during Katrina in ’05 and remembered for George W. Bush telling him: “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.”
“I don’t think [Obama] can gain politically from Sandy,” said Brown, now a radio talk show host in Denver, Colorado, “The two states that are affected by Sandy that are in play in the election are Pennsylvania and Virginia. It’s not as though he can fly in and do something. When we had fires here in Colorado, the president flew in and it was disruptive. The Secret Service had to shut down everything for him and that interrupted the response.”
Perhaps aware that the worst thing is to do and say nothing, Romney and the Republicans are taking action. The Republican nominee canceled all appearances Monday and Tuesday and urged caution. In North Carolina, Republican victory centers announced they would be open twelve hours and distribute essentials such as drinking water, non-perishable foods, baby and sanitation supplies, and flashlights and batteries.
All signs are that Sandy will bid farewell to the northeast by Wednesday. Both the White House and the Romney camp are sure to do what they can to help out. Regarding their impact on the voting next Tuesday, the president may have put it best when he remarked at the White House: “The election will take care of itself next week.”