Mother Nature Plays Politics
Today Hurricane Sandy is the most important woman in the swing states.
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 hardest-hit 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. The only problem for a candidate who made this offer would be if the other campaign agreed to it. It would deprive whichever campaign was losing of important manpower to get out the vote.
OK, back from fantasyland.
The presidency has a performance aspect to it, especially during times of crisis, so evaluating the candidates now in a political context is part of evaluating them for the job they will hold. But there's also a practical effect of the storm. It may hamper early voting, and it may limit the organization-building benefits of candidate visits. The rains and winds could keep people from their polling places in North Carolina, and if the winter storm kicks up in Ohio, that could affect in-person voting there, too. It could also affect the door-to-door canvassing that's supposed to take place in those states. Virginia is the only state affected by the storm that has absentee voting, which requires an excuse and doesn't really take place in person, so the state won't be affected as much as the others.
Two days of no campaign events means two days when the candidate can't be used to attract voters. When candidates come to town, it initiates a range of organizing efforts—including busing voters to the polls after rallies—that won't take place if the candidate isn't in town. Bill Clinton has stepped in for Obama during the crisis period, which might be a blessing. Clinton's convention speech was better received than Obama's acceptance speech because he is a more articulate spokesman. On the eve of the storm, Clinton told voters in Connecticut: "We’re coming down to the 11th 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.”
Any disruption in the early vote or ability to harness candidate visits would probably hurt Democrats. Their voters are harder to turn out, so each day lost is a lost chance to get someone to the polls. On the other hand, if I'm home all day in Ohio, I might have the time to mail in that ballot I've had sitting on the dresser.
Now we wait. It is temping to think that politics will be the last thing on people's minds in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, but that's as unrealistic as thinking if I step outside right now I won't get wet.