The US Presidential election is close. Really close. The political futures markets favour Obama about 2 to 1 but polls of the nationwide popular vote and the polls in key states, such as Ohio and Virginia, are essentially tied. Enter the October surprise – Sandy, the latest ever recorded Atlantic storm, now coming ashore and pounding key battleground states.
The campaign itself has been pushed from the headlines. Obama has cancelled appearances to make sure the federal and state governments are ready to react. That’s his job as President, and it’s also smart politics.
Obama has been given an extraordinary opportunity to show himself as commander-in-chief. He is guaranteed lots of TV time, not at campaign events but doing the job for which he is currently applying. If he and the government handle the situation well, he will benefit just as Bob Parker did in the aftermath of the first Christchurch earthquake, which saved Parker’s bacon in the 2010 local elections.
The opportunities for Romney are much more limited. He will be denied air-time by the disaster itself. He won’t have a valid reason to tour disaster areas; unlike the President, he has no resources to command in the relief effort (unless the campaign decides to cancel ads and give the money to disaster relief – that could be smart). And if things do go wrong, Romney will only have a matter of days to make a big deal over them while, somehow, not appearing to be trying to make political capital out of people’s misfortune.
These factors would seem to be to Obama’s advantage. But the disaster itself could be the opposite.
Early voting has already been cancelled in Maryland (a safe Democrat state) and there is a possibility it could be affected in the large battleground states of Virginia and Ohio right through to election day, next Tuesday. If voting is more difficult, if people are displaced and the campaigns’ get out the vote systems are disrupted, that would probably favour Romney, who is more likely to win the fewer people vote.
It’s a hell of a way to decide an election.