Hurricane Sandy, the monster storm disrupting life on the East Coast, is having a serious impact on the presidential campaign. Here are seven actual and potential consequences:
1. Limiting turnout: The storm is limiting early turnout in battleground states in the hurricane's path, such as North Carolina, Virginia, and New Hampshire. Early voting has already been curtailed by authorities in many areas because of unsafe local conditions. Such voting may surge after the storm passes. But if there are widespread power failures, evacuations, injuries, and property damage, as expected, the election will increasingly take a back seat as people focus on protecting themselves, their families, and their homes. This could be particularly damaging to President Obama, who is counting on a massive early turnout, especially among African Americans, Latinos, young people, and new voters who often prefer early voting to standing in line at the polls on Election day, which is next Tuesday.
David Axelrod, Obama's senior strategist, told NBC, "Obviously we want unfettered access to the polls, because we believe that the more people come out, the better we're going to do. And so, to the extent that it makes it harder, that's a source of concern.
2. Hampering swing-state turnout: If the storm-related disruptions extend into next week, this also could depress swing-state turnout on Election Day. Each campaign has been preparing for a huge get-out-the-vote effort on November 6, so this would be a wild card.
3. Shifting attention: The sheer volume and intensity of media coverage of Hurricane Sandy are shifting attention away from the presidential campaign in its final days. That might be especially harmful to Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who has been gaining on Obama and probably needs continued news-media coverage in order to keep his momentum going.
4. Rendering TV ads useless: People may not pay as much attention to TV ads in storm-stricken battlegrounds and other important states such as Virginia, Florida, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. This could be particularly harmful to Romney, who has been planning all along for a last-minute ad blitz to counteract the many weeks of negative ads that the Obama campaign has been running in the swing states.
5. Changing candidates' schedules: The schedules of the candidates are being disrupted. Both Obama and Romney, and their vice presidential running mates, are shuffling events in order to keep up with hurricane developments and avoid complicating emergency response efforts.
6. Impacting vote tabulations: If there are widespread power failures and other damage and disruption, it could affect the ability of states and localities to actually count votes.
7. Defining Obama's disaster response: Finally, the federal management of the storm response could make or break Obama. He wants to show that he is a capable crisis manager. He skipped a rally in Ohio Monday, for example, in order to preside in Washington over emergency preparations and disaster response. His aides are well aware of the negative reaction to President George W. Bush's failure to adequately keep track of Hurricane Katrina several years ago, a lapse that badly damaged Bush's reputation.
Obama's aides say he won't put politics over public safety. Romney aides say the same thing. Romney's campaign staff in Virginia has begun collecting relief supplies such as bottled water and granola bars to distribute to storm victims.
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of five books, including most recently, "Family of Freedom: Presidents and African Americans in the White House." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.