Candidates Set Aside Campaigning to Focus on Storm’s Effect

Posted October 29, 2012 at 2:48pm

Even before Hurricane Sandy made landfall, political observers were analyzing the storm’s effect on the presidential race and on the logistics of the elections along the East Coast.

Candidates were making sure today that their focus was on the federal response and the needs of those affected.

Early voting in places including Maryland was canceled today, and the outlook for Nov. 6 voting along the East Coast was clouded. A Connecticut elections official said last week that the state is preparing for the possibility of counting paper ballots by hand in a worst-case scenario.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Craig Fugate told reporters that while each state’s officials are in charge of elections, FEMA will provide a support function. “There could be impacts that could linger into next week,” Fugate said.

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey (D), who is a candidate for re-election, said he is confident Pennsylvanians will be ready to cast their ballots next week. “I do think that by the time the election gets here, folks in our state will be ready to vote despite what they have to fight through the next couple of days,” Casey said on MSNBC.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said it would be premature to discuss changing the date of the elections because of expected widespread power outages.

“I think that is not something I’m able to address,” Carney said during a briefing on Air Force One. “We have to focus on not the campaign and not the election, but on making sure that all federal resources are both pre-positioned and in place to help states and localities respond to the storm, to help Americans who are affected by the storm.”

During an Obama campaign conference call, a reporter from the swing state of New Hampshire asked campaign manager Jim Messina what the storm could mean for crucial get-out-the-vote efforts.

“The president’s focus is on the storm and governing the country and making sure our people are safe,” Messina said. “You know, we continue to believe that … on the ground, we’re going to be able to turn out our voters in these final days.”

Messina said the Obama campaign’s ground game is in good shape, but he added that the campaign is “going to go day-by-day” regarding Obama’s availability for campaign events.

Both Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney appeared to heed lessons of the past by focusing on the storm in the early hours. President George Bush faced criticism for what came to be perceived as a slow federal response to Hurricane Andrew, which devastated South Florida in August of 1992, just months before he lost his re-election bid to Democrat Bill Clinton.

The electoral impacts of the historic storm could reach far beyond the travel schedules of the principals, with power companies saying millions of Americans could be without power for an extended period.

With the storm bearing down on his state, Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) emphasized the need for a quick response by FEMA and other departments.

Other lawmakers have sought to demonstrate their interest in the storm response. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) met with local emergency management officials on the eastern Connecticut shoreline, where storm surge could reach the highest levels ever recorded.

Obama canceled campaign events and returned to the White House, even as the campaign apparatus itself carried on its efforts. The president convened a meeting with officials from FEMA and other federal agencies to discuss the storm shortly after returning unexpectedly early from a campaign trip to Florida.

The Romney campaign canceled several events involving the former Massachusetts governor, as well as running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.).

“Governor Romney believes this is a time for the nation and its leaders to come together to focus on those Americans who are in harm’s way,” campaign spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said in a statement.