Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
It will take days to catalog the full destruction from Hurricane Sandy and to calculate the clean-up cost, and the storm figures to dominate the news for the immediate future. Figuring out how this might impact the presidential race is a guessing game. There’s no precedent for a catastrophic weather event like this coming just days before such a close national election. But potential problems for both candidates jump out.
For Romney, the downside is obvious: Sandy has for now frozen the race in place – and where the race is right now isn’t good for him. If the election were held this moment, Barack Obama would probably be returned to office for a second term. The president is at best tied with Romney in the national horserace and at worst behind by a point, but he holds clear advantages in the most important battleground states and is much better-positioned to reach 270 electoral votes.
Romney needs to shore up states like Virginia and Colorado and erase stubborn gaps in Ohio or Wisconsin and Iowa before next Tuesday. Momentum alone doesn’t seem like it will get him there. He surged in the wake of the first debate in Denver, but the race has settled into place since then. For lack of a better term, Romney is in need of some kind of jolt that would fix his swing state problem.
Sandy severely complicates this task. For one thing, it has overtaken the presidential campaign as the top national story and will continue to do so for several days. Obama, as the president, has an obvious place in this story. The actions of the White House and the response of the federal government are integral to the clean-up, and Obama has a platform to showcase his presidential leadership. Romney, though, has no official role, and really can’t force his way into the story. There’s also the matter of unseemliness – it wouldn’t look too good for Romney to keep right on campaigning as the rest of the country takes stock of a natural disaster. Thus did Romney cancel events yesterday and again today.
But he has to do something to stay visible, so Romney is today attending what his campaign is billing as a “storm relief event” in Ohio with Nascar driver Richard Petty and Randy Owen of country music fame. Attendees are being asked to bring canned goods and other disaster relief supplies or to make donations to the Red Cross. Romney may speak but his remarks probably won’t be political in nature. This is probably the best his campaign can do today, just getting images of him showing some concern for the victims of the storm into the news media.
Perhaps by Thursday the campaign as we’ve known it will resume, although even then Romney will have to strike a delicate balance. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible for Romney to make the swing state strides he needs by November 6, but losing several days of campaigning and media coverage does make it harder.
There are two risks for Obama. The obvious one is that he stands to be blamed for any perceived shortcomings in the federal government’s response to the storm. This is the flip-side of being president during a natural disaster. It’s an opportunity to show leadership, but you’re also on the hook for just about anything that goes wrong, even if it’s out of your control. The good news for Obama on this front is that the reviews of his performance seem positive right now; even New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a top Romney supporter, offered praise for the president last night. But it’s a volatile situation; a lot can still happen.
Another potential problem for Obama involves the popular vote. Sandy is mainly affecting the Northeast. There are a few swing states in the region, like New Hampshire and (sort of) Pennsylvania, but this is basically Obama country. However, Obama hasn’t been performing as well here as he should be. It’s not that he’s in danger of losing states like New Jersey and Connecticut, but his margins are down significantly from 2008, more so than in other regions. This may be the reason that a popular vote/Electoral College disconnect is possible; unimpressive wins in the Northeast won’t cost Obama any electoral votes, but they would drag down his standing in the national popular vote.
To avoid that situation, Obama needs strong turnout from the region’s Democratic-friendly voters. Part of this can be accomplished through aggressive voter mobilization efforts and (where it’s permitted) early voting. Sandy makes this a lot tougher; already, two days of early voting in Maryland have been cancelled (although Governor Martin O’Malley did add one make-up day). Obama was already facing an enthusiasm issue among blue state Democrats. If they are preoccupied for the next week with the fallout from Sandy (no power, closed roads, damage to personal property), it could give them another reason to stay home next week – especially if they figure their states are already in Obama’s column anyway.
Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki More Steve Kornacki.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)
Alex Pareene surveys the burgeoning and bloated world of political news and opinion and explains the day's most essential story in Opening Shot, posted by 8:30 a.m. each weekday. Bookmark this page; follow @pareene on Twitter.