Bill Clinton and the Empty Campaign Trail

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 29 2012 3:22 PM

Bill Clinton and the (Storm-Induced) Empty Campaign Trail

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As Obama's top surrogate, Bill Clinton will serve an even more important role with the president sidelines by Hurricane Sandy.

Photo by Duane Prokop/Getty Images.

With Act 1 of Hurricane Sandy wrapping up, let's take quick look at the campaign trail, which for the next few days at least is about to miss one key ingredient: the candidates.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Mitt Romney ... scrambled his schedule in response to Sandy, announcing he was shelving campaign events across the country “out of sensitivity” for millions in the path of the storm.
Romney was still going forward with an event Monday afternoon in Davenport, Iowa, which the campaign decided not to cancel because setup had begun and doors had opened. But he will no longer appear in Ohio on Monday night and on Tuesday, and his running mate Paul Ryan will shelve campaigning in Florida later Monday and Colorado on Tuesday, Romney communications director Gail Gitcho wrote to reporters in an email.
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Obama, assuming the role of commander-in-chief, abruptly canceled an appearance at a rally in Orlando, Fla., with former president Bill Clinton, and returned to Washington to get back ahead of the advancing storm. After Air Force One landed at Andrews Air Force Base at 10:29 a.m., the president convened a storm briefing in the White House situation room and then addressed the nation. ...
The president’s statement did not address the election, but in response to the one question he took from reporters, he said: “I am not worrying at this point about the impact on elections . . . the election will take care of itself next week. Right now, our number one priority is to make sure we are saving lives.’’

While it's too early to know just how long Obama and Romney will stay sidelined by the storm, it looks like a safe bet that both men will lose at least two days on the campaign trail. That creates a remarkable vacuum on the stump with only a little more than a week to go before voters head to the polls. Enter Bill Clinton, who carried on by himself in Orlando this morning in Obama's absence.

Former President Bill Clinton is planning a visit to New Hampshire this week to campaign for President Barack Obama. New Hampshire is on a list of battleground states he plans to visit. Other stops are Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado, Ohio and Virginia.

While Romney can—and likely will—tap his own surrogates to carry the load in the coming days if he chooses to remain on the shelf because of Sandy, he lacks a bold-faced name of the caliber of the former president (in terms of drumming up excitement among party faithful and/or the media). During this summer's conventions, after all, Clinton delivered such a crowd-pleasing speech that he somewhat overshadowed Obama. Romney, meanwhile, was left with the unenviable task of following Clint Eastwood and an empty chair onstage.

To be clear, the storm could easily hurt the president's campaign in a variety of other ways, but if the hurricane turns the election's home stretch into a battle of surrogates, Team Obama likely feels pretty relieved it has Clinton to deploy where it needs.