Hurricane Sandy and the election

  • Article by: FRANK BRUNI , New York Times
  • Updated: October 30, 2012 - 8:18 PM

As Sandy churned, so did the political panic. How the storm could impact presidential politics.

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Downtown Annapolis, Md., Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, after the superstorm and the remnants of Hurricane Sandy passed through..

Photo: Susan Walsh, Associated Press - Ap

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If you've watched whole sections of your home sail away, been stranded in a shelter or can't make contact with a loved one whose safety isn't certain, it's probably unsettling at best -- and galling at worst -- to hear Sandy referred to as an "October surprise," on a par with a bimbo eruption or corruption scandal, wreaking havoc on the presidential race above all else.

But there's no solipsism like political solipsism, and this election has addled people like few I've witnessed, with even the most peripheral developments and random polls scrutinized to smithereens for their outcome-auguring significance. Why should weather be exempt from such hyperventilation?

This week will be remembered as one when meteorology and punditry became strange bedfellows and a measure of perspective was gone with the wind.

I've read that Sandy will diminish the impact of homestretch advertising, because people whose electricity is out cannot watch TV.

I've also read that Sandy will intensify the impact of homestretch advertising, because people whose electricity is not out are raptly monitoring local stations, where such advertising is concentrated.

It has been opined that Sandy could hurt President Barack Obama, disrupting early voting and depressing turnout. It has been opined that Sandy could help Obama, affording him the opportunity to look presidential as he marshals federal resources and directs the emergency aid effort.

The wind-lashed tree outside my window is bending to the left, an omen clearly in the president's favor. But if I were looking at it from the building across the yard, it would be tilting right, an obvious nod for Mitt Romney.

Someone somewhere has no doubt produced a chart that breaks down storm categories and their electoral consequences.

Blizzards: pro-Romney. Snow evokes winter. Romney rescued the Winter Olympics. And one of his nicknames -- Mittens -- is an icy, slushy, flaky one.

Tsunamis: also pro-Romney. They affect coastlines, where cosmopolitan types cluster, and thus divert liberals' attention from the contest at hand, granting more power to the folks living in the flyover.

Tornados: pro-Obama. They distract the folks in the flyover, and are also known as twisters, which remind voters everywhere of Romney's pretzel of disparate positions over the course of his political career or, for that matter, the last five minutes.

And hurricanes?

From the Mother Jones website I learned that "all other things being equal, the incumbent party does less well when it's too wet or too dry," as opposed to when it's just right. This was the assessment of Larry Bartels, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University who has apparently made a study of this.

But how does the incumbent party do when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars? Who, pray tell, is making a study of that?

Obama suspended campaigning in order to man command central in Washington. This meant that a rally in Orlando, Fla., that he was supposed to do with Bill Clinton had to be headlined by Clinton alone. The former president, needless to say, was devastated.

Joe Biden detoured from New Hampshire to Ohio, which is also where Clinton headed after Florida. Romney stumped there too. Will Ohioans never know a moment's peace?

The Obama and Romney campaigns think that dropping in on a swing state over and over again will win them favor, but that's questionable. Given the traffics jams, flight delays and hordes of sarcastic columnists that candidates bring with them, I wouldn't want a personal visit. Maybe just a gift basket.

As Sandy churned, so did the political panic. Would the storm down enough phone lines to impede daily tracking polls? A column in The Huffington Post articulated this dark fear, which I'd characterize instead as a delightful reprieve.

Would the surge of tides end the surge of Mitt, his momentum washed away by the storm's domination of the news?

And would the Labor Department seize on Sandy and the shutdown of federal offices as an excuse not to release new unemployment figures Friday, saying that work on them had been delayed? Republicans went into anticipatory conniptions, until officials with the department announced that there probably wouldn't be any lag.

Reality checks were imperative. The state whose cancellation of early voting was most often cited was Maryland. Obama doesn't need early voting to win Maryland. He almost doesn't need a pulse.

And climate change was brought up. "It's as if Mother Nature is sending yet another message to American voters: Ignore me no longer," wrote Heather Taylor-Miesle, the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, in a blog post emailed to many journalists.

Of course Obama and Romney themselves ignored climate change in their three debates. So maybe Mother Nature isn't so much putting her thumb on the scale as showing both candidates the back of her hand.

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