Sandy introduces big unknown into campaign

Monday, October 29, 2012 - 10:00am

The beauty of being a president and a candidate is that when a monster storm stalks up the East Coast, you can run over to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and be seen as a president on the job.

Which also works if you are re-applying.

"It's so important for us to respond big and respond fast as local information starts coming in," President Barack Obama said at FEMA.

The president canceled his campaign trip Tuesday to the swing state of Colorado, far beyond the reach of Hurricane Sandy. But his people say the president needs to stay home and monitor things, which one Republican found interesting.

"You notice that he's canceling his trips over the hurricane. He didn't cancel his trips over Benghazi," former House speaker and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said on ABC's "This Week."

Both the president and Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney canceled appearances in the weather-threatened swing state of Virginia so as not to chew up resources and otherwise get in the way of storm preparations.

But suppose they held an election and the electricity was out. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is supposing.

"The state board of elections is already planning for extended hours in advance for absentee voting, and it's now a priority, moved up to the same level as hospitals and police stations to have power restored," he told me on "State of the Union."

And what about states where the polls are already open to one degree or another? Maryland has already canceled early voting on Monday.

What these storm-driven timeouts will mean for the election stumps even master politicos:

"Obviously we want unfettered access to the polls because we believe that the more people come out, the better we're going to do, and so to the extent that it makes it harder, you know, that's a source of concern," Obama senior adviser David Axelrod told me. "But I don't know how all the politics will sort out."

That brings us to the Romney-Ryan ticket: They are not in power, can't really do much, but still have to pay attention.

"I know that right now some people in the country are a little nervous about a storm about to hit the coast," Romney said. "And our thoughts and prayers are with the people who will find themselves in harm's way."

Just the forecast of a potential disaster can make politics look small. So far, the Romney campaign has stopped fundraising e-mails into affected states, made a campaign bus available for relief efforts, started taking up collections in campaign offices and put up a blog with weather-related advice.

And the itinerary may change.

Optics are tricky, said one top Republican who added the schedule may change depending on what the storm does. A disaster somewhere would make campaigning anywhere difficult.

Mixing politics and weather is to double-down on the unknown.

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