With just a week to go until election day, Hurricane Sandy slammed the East Coast on Monday, Oct. 29, and left at least 114 dead in the U.S. and the Caribbean, streets flooded, and 6.6 million without power. Both presidential campaigns have been forced to reevaluate their strategies for the crucial last leg of the campaign.
President Barack Obama is back in Washington to monitor the storm, after canceling a Monday campaign stop in Florida and Tuesday stops in Wisconsin and Colorado. He is "not worried at this point on the impact on the election," he said at at a press briefing on Monday about how the super storm will affect the election. "The election will take care of itself next week, right now our number one priority is to make sure we are saving lives," Obama said.
Mitt Romney, meanwhile, also canceled several campaign events in battleground states New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Virginia, though he did hold a campaign event in Ohio on Monday morning, and urged supporters to stay safe.
"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," Gail Gitcho, Romney's communications director, said to CBS News.
Speculation has already begun as to how this unexpected tragedy will influence the election on November 6. The tone of the race could change significantly in the final days, since much of the East coast is still without power and will not be reached by advertisements and media. Obama, according to some experts, could end up benefitting from the storm, since it will show him acting presidential in a time of crisis. Presidents almost always get a positive bump in approval ratings after a crisis.
Longtime Republican strategist Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential run, said to Politico that the race is now in “a very dangerous period for both campaigns, not to look overly political in difficult times. Any forward momentum Romney had has now been halted.” He added, “President Obama’s greatest campaign tool, Air Force One, has been grounded for the last two days.” Reed predicts that most campaign activity will move to the Midwest and West in the final stretch.
Both campaigns will have to be careful to be sensitive while much of the country is dealing with a crisis. The candidates will not want to offend voters, and will have to recognize the fact that not as many people will be paying attention to politics during this natural disaster. Both sides sent out surrogates to campaign for them on Tuesday, with former President Bill Clinton campaigning for Obama in Colorado and Ann Romney headlining a rally for her husband in Des Moines, Iowa.
The change in tone has even been seen among other politicians. Republican Governor Chris Christie put aside his role of pro-Romney attacker of Obama to praise his efforts with the storm. “It’s been very good working with the president,” Christie said in an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “He and his administration have been coordinating with us. It’s been wonderful,” he said. Christie added it wasn't a time for politics.
There has been some speculation about how the storm could affect voting on election day. Voter turnout could be lower if people are consumed with recovering after the storm, and it could affect early voting in some states, as well as getting absentee ballots through the mail on time.
The storm cold mean that Obama may not win the popular vote, but he will still have a victory in the electoral college, according to Jeff Greenfield, a Yahoo News columnist. The voters that are most affected by the storm are in states where Obama is almost guaranteed to win, which means a potential lower turnout in these states.
This means we could have "an increased chance that Obama will lose the national popular vote to Romney, and thus an increased chance that we’ll see, as we did in 2000, a split between the popular vote and the Electoral College," Greenfield said.
An incumbent president has never been re-elected while losing the popular vote, and if this happened, it would most likely bring up a debate over the value of the Electoral College and whether it is really the most democratic way to choose a president.
There has never been a major storm this close to an election, in recent politics, so there is no precedent for how candidates should act. Despite this, there are plenty of historical examples of an "October Surprise"—an event or news revelation that comes right before election day and has the potential to affect the results.
An example of this occurred in the 2000 election, George W. Bush's drunk-driving arrest was made public right before the election, and may have cost him the popular vote. In 2008, Lehman Brothers collapsed and the financial system went into chaos, and helped seal the deal for Obama's victory.