Editor’s note: We’ll be talking about this story during today’s live BlazeCast at 1pm ET:
In a race that both sides expected by-and-large to be about planned events, October has been a month full of unscripted twists and turns. From GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s lightning strike of a debate performance at the beginning of the month, which upended the race and sent it careening back toward the challenger, to the failure of preplanned October “surprises” pushed by Donald Trump and Gloria Allred, to the escalating scandal over last month’s Benghazi attacks, this month has defied expectations. And now, at the very end, perhaps the ultimate October surprise – a natural disaster – has hit the East Coast in the form of Hurricane Sandy.
So naturally enough, one question that’s been asked is, how will this impact the election? The answer, thus far, is likely to give supporters of President Barack Obama nervous. The Christian Science Monitor reports:
All the GOP candidate has to do is avoid the appearance that he’s taking political advantage of a potential tragedy – something he failed to do during the early hours of the terrorist attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
But if things go wrong with the federal response to Sandy, Obama will be blamed. And the Obama camp in particular is counting on early voters and get-out-the-vote efforts come Election Day.
“Obviously we want unfettered access to the polls because we believe that the more people that come out, the better we’ll do,” top Obama adviser David Axelrod said on CNN Sunday. “And so, to the extent that it makes it harder, that’s a source of concern.”
“I hope that it all clears out and by the next weekend, we’ll be free of it,” Axelrod added.
Reuters adds a caveat that may explain Axelrod’s discombobulation at the potential effects of the storm:
There is some evidence that natural disasters can hurt an incumbent’s re-election chances as voters often blame whoever is in office for adversity.
Research by Larry Bartels of Vanderbilt University and Christopher Achen of Princeton University found that Vice President Al Gore may have lost the election in 2000 because of severe drought and excessive rainfall in seven states.
Bush’s approval ratings plummeted after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, and voters could similarly blame Obama if the government fumbles its response to this storm.
National Review election analyst Jim Geraghty picks up this theme, calling 2012 “Year of the Politically Ill-Timed Hurricane.” However, he takes a bit more of a balanced view of the impact of Sandy, suggesting it will impact both parties evenly:
Obviously, early voting is virtually suspended in all of the states experiencing hurricane-force winds, storm surges, etc. Depending on how bad the damage is, you could see some of the most casual, least-motivated voters not bothering to vote a week from Tuesday and focusing on repairing their houses. A few cycles ago, people used to joke that rainy weather was Republican weather; the Republican base was considered much more determined and reliable as voters than the Democrats’ base. And certainly, this year polls have indicated that Republican enthusiasm is off the charts and Democrats’ is down from the 2008 heights. (Apparently Obama’s television ads are sufficiently outrageous to boost Republican enthusiasm to vote against him.) But I think the Democratic base turns out more regularly than it used to and is probably at parity with the Republican one.
So if this lowers turnout a bit in states like Pennsylvania, Virginia and New Hampshire, the first guess would be that it’s bad news for Obama. But right now Romney’s on a (metaphorical) wave.
Both nominees, meanwhile, are walking a fine line between trying to preserve their political edge and avoid looking callous to the concerns of Americans suffering from the effects of Sandy. President Obama has canceled several major events, and returned to Washington. Governor Romney, meanwhile, is continuing to hold events in swing states, but has donated his campaign bus as a courier to bring supplies to hurricane victims. Republican campaign offices are also reportedly being converted into safe spaces for people to take shelter from the storm.