After canceling his appearance at a morning campaign rally in Orlando, Fla., President Barack Obama walks toward the White House in a driving rain after returning to Washington to monitor preparations for early response to Hurricane Sandy, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012.
You read the Tweets and you take your choice. Hurricane Sandy is an advantage for:
• President Obama, because it blunts Mitt Romney's perceived momentum.
• Romney, because it suppresses early voting.
• Obama, because it allows him to look presidential.
• Romney, because it puts Obama on the hot seat.
• Obama, because it reminds people that Romney wanted to dismantle FEMA.
• Romney, because it disrupts the vital Obama ground game and could actually reduce voting.
Let's take a closer look.
1Whose momentum? If you look closely at the polls, Mittmentum had largely dissipated while East Coast skies were still blue. The race has settled to a remarkably stable point -- tighter than skinny jeans nationwide, with Obama maintaining a swing-state advantage that looks difficult to overcome. Example: Politico's latest battleground tracking poll released Monday showed a 1-point edge for the president, who had trailed by 2 a week ago.
2Early voting. Obama has, by all accounts, rolled up a big lead in early voting so far, so this is a concern for the Obama camp, but not a huge concern because of the luck of the draw. Most of the Sandy-affected states either don't have early voting (Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey) or only absentee with limitations (Virginia) or aren't swing states (Maryland). Possible exception: North Carolina, but much of the early voting is already done there and Sandy is having a relatively small effect in the state.
3 Looking like a president. Well, yes. Presidents lead in crises. Obama has the ability to lead, and to look like a leader. He spoke to the country Monday afternoon, and he certainly didn't hurt himself, particularly when he said, "I'm not worried about the election right now. I'm worried about families ... the election will take care of itself next week." Romney bringing relief supplies on the campaign bus is a pale substitute and points up just what an advantage the presidency is in this situation. Katrina taught all future presidents a hard lesson. Speaking of which...
4 The hot seat. If the federal response is botched, it could hurt Obama fatally. That's why he must pay close attention, and make sure he pulls every lever he can to deploy aid quickly, consistently, efficiently. This is what being the man in the arena is all about. The stakes couldn't be higher. Note: Obama had better hope his bureaucrats learned something from Bush's bureaucrats.
5 Disaster-relief disaster? Rom-ney did say in a primary debate in June that FEMA should be abolished and its responsibilities either sent to the states or privatized. Like many of those primary statements, he'd like to have this one back. But it initially looked more like a gotcha than a tactical problem -- unless he compounds it. Which he shows signs of doing. Given the opportunity Monday morning, he did not walk back from it, telling the Huffington Post that states "are first responders and are in the best position to aid impacted individuals and communities." Well true, but billions in federal aid are hard to substitute on the statewide level.
6 The ground game. This is by far the biggest question mark, because in a race as tight as this one, the Democrats simply must get out the vote. If this storm had come even three or four days later, the impact on Election Day could have been much greater, but it could still be significant. One thing to remember: While it's axiomatic that Republicans simply vote, come hell or, yes, high water, without much prodding, in this case simple logistics could affect the GOP vote as well. In that respect the storm may be beneficial for Democrats since it could force the GOP to do more on the ground than it normally would.