No one, including President Obama or former Governor Romney, actively seeks out silver lining when something as tragic as Hurricane Sandy takes place. The lives lost and the destruction apportioned are unambiguously regrettable. The hurricane was a harsh, unwelcome but important reminder that despite our political differences, in the end we’re all Americans. When tragedy strikes, we stand side by side.
But, with only a few days left in this election cycle, Hurricane Sandy is now an inextricable part of the 2012 election. Its impact on the election simply cannot be ignored.
So what does each candidate stand to gain in Hurricane Sandy’s wake? For the most part, it plays in the president’s favor. But here’s how the hurricane has affected political fronts.
Advantage: Strong Obama
President Obama’s greatest threat through October was a stubbornly pervasive narrative that just would not go away. Despite two subsequent debates that were unanimously determined to be “wins” for the president, that fateful first debate had a stranglehold on the media narrative.
And then, in both a metaphorical and a literal sense, a tidal wave swept it away.
Granted, many in the media were claiming that the swing state polls did not reflect any momentum for Romney and that by mid-October, only Obama showed any possible advantage in polling. But these claims felt defensive. Regardless of their veracity, they felt written out of fear.
And, had it not been for Hurricane Sandy, the Romney campaign would have held their “momentum” story through Election Day.
For better or worse, the media’s take on the state of the election does heavily influence the minds of voters. It’s also simply inarguable to suggest the bandwagon effect doesn’t have its role in politics.
But there’s also something more than the articles themselves. There’s a “mood” to the media. And the mood has swung back in the president’s favor in the wake of his handling of the storm.
The reason the media’s coverage of the hurricane strongly helps the president’s campaign is not merely because he’s appeared “presidential” and “strong” through the storm. It’s because that story, relative to the “Romney Momentum” story, is a huge differential in the president’s favor.
The Ground Game
Advantage: Slight Romney
President Obama has a grassroots campaign unprecedented in American political history in terms of sheer force and reach. President Obama’s campaign offices in swing states outnumber former Governor Romney’s by about a 3-1 margin. President Obama has 131 field offices in Ohio, compared to 40 for Governor Romney.
But, as a result of the storm, people may be less willing to show up to the polling booths. And whether it’s conventional wisdom or merely mythical, Democrats need high turnout to win. Particularly in Pennsylvania, the voter turnout efforts for President Obama now have to overcome logistical hurdles they did not have to worry about.
While President Obama still has a superior ground game, the storm could potentially weaken it in a substantial way.
With Democrat fears of GOP voter suppression efforts looming, the storm may do more of the voter suppressing. If President Obama can keep his ground game strong, the hurricane should be a huge overall help to his campaign efforts.