So what does Romney do now?

If the hurricane freezes the presidential race in place, it's not good news for the GOP nominee

Topics: Opening Shot,

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

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>