November 2, 2012

Sandy Shifts Attention to Local Leaders, Away From Presidential Race


Cars on 14th Street and Avenue C under water.

The largest public transportation system in the world shuttered.

5,700 flights canceled.

Nearly 7 million people across the East Coast in the dark.

And the final campaign push one week until Election Day? On hold.

As Hurricane Sandy barreled up the eastern United States before weakening, the super-storm left behind snow, downed power lines, flooding and amounting death toll of more than a dozen.

Residents along the East Coast turned their attention from the presidential contest between Presdient Obama and Mitt Romney to state and local officials and the tensions brewing — or lessening — among them.

“The president has been outstanding,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said on NBC’s “Today Show” Tuesday morning. He’d been praising Mr. Obama through the duration of the storm, a shift from the campaign attack posture he’s held all year.

But the election didn’t completely disappear, with most of the candidates appearing at campaign rallies and keeping up their standard stump speeches. Tuesday’s events will have more of a storm focus, with both Mr. Obama and Vice President Biden unlikely to talk politics and both Romney’s wife Ann and his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan visiting campaign offices where they are collecting emergency supplies. Team Romney said the events were shifted because “of sensitivity to those in the storm’s path and to ensure the safety of those in the area.”

Any major disaster puts a spotlight on governing and the cost of disaster preparedness. Reporter Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post resurfaced video of Romney at a GOP primary debate where he criticized funding FEMA. But Romney’s campaign reiterated the former governor’s stance that states should lead emergency response management and that FEMA should not be abolished. (Politico notes that FEMA is flush with cash.)

While there are major questions about how polling places will be affected for this week’s early voting and Tuesday’s big show, at least one potential Sandy-related consequence was avoided. The Labor Department plans to release the October jobs report as scheduled on Friday, keeping in place what could be a defining final moment the election. The department originally hedged on Monday about releasing the report on time because of the storm.

Exploring this question, Slate’s John Dickerson dubbed Sandy “the most important woman in the swing states.”

He writes:

Evaluating the candidates now in a political context is part of evaluating them for the job they will hold. But there’s also a practical effect of the storm. It may hamper early voting, and it may limit the organization-building benefits of candidate visits.

The NewsHour is maintaining a robust live blog with the very latest, and Monday’s program took a look at how the storm had scrambled the campaign.

Judy Woodruff talked with USA Today’s Susan Page and the Washington Post’s Dan Balz about a new Pew Research Center poll of 1,678 registered voters that found Mr. Obama leading Romney, 47 percent to 45 percent. Among likely voters, the men are tied at 47 percent.

The survey found “Republicans becoming much more upbeat about the race and about Mitt Romney himself,” with more Romney voters now saying “they are voting for him rather than against Obama.”

The president still leads Romney on personal characteristics, Pew found. “Obama is seen as the candidate with more moderate positions on issues and as more willing to work with members of the other party. He also holds wide advantages on empathy and consistency,” according to Pew.

Balz noted the president had improved slightly in the Washington Post tracking poll out Monday night, with the men deadlocked nationally at 49 percent.

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