The politicization of Hurricane Sandy happened instantly, because the election is next week. The candidates don't have time for a tasteful grace period. As we saw with the attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, there is no event that can't be chewed up into crass horserace analysis. Sandy is just happening extra fast. Who has the most to gain from Sandy, President Obama or Mitt Romney? There are so many competing hypotheses it's hard to keep them straight. Here's our guide to them:
Helps Romney: Voters punish incumbents for natural disaster damage, political scientists Andrew Reeves and John T. Gasper found. Others agree: "The pretty strong pattern turns out to be that all other things being equal, the incumbent party does less well when it's too wet or too dry," Larry Bartels, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, told Mother Jones.
Helps Obama: Unless those incumbents respond effectively! Voters reward governors who ask for federal help, and they reward presidents who give it, Reeves and Gasper found.
Helps Romney: Obama cancelled a rally in Orlando Monday and one in Wisconsin Tuesday. Romney gets to keep up his campaign schedule, mostly. On Monday, he continued with plans for rallies in Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin, before canceling the Wisconsin one. Paul Ryan will hold one rally in Florida. Romney will hold a rally at the University of Miami Wednesday. He's also tweaked his message to reflect the storm, saying in an email to supporters, "I’m never prouder of America than when I see how we pull together in a crisis. There’s nothing that we can’t handle when we stand together." He spoke to the governors of New Jersey and Virginia about Sandy preparations.
Helps Obama: But he looks presidential! "The biggest threat to the President right now is that the federal government doesn’t respond to the storm in the right way. If they get that piece correct then it’s the symbolism of how many days does he have to simply be FEMA-commander-in-chief?" Time's Mark Halperin said on MSNBC Monday. When asked by reporters on a conference call if Romney should stop campaigning, Obama adviser David Axelrod said, "I'm not going to tell Gov. Romney what to do. As far as the president goes, he has real responsibilities." The White House Flickr stream posted the photo above of Obama on a conference call with Federal Emergency Management Agency about Sandy.
Hurts Obama: But why can't he look presidential from the campaign trail? "W/Obama nixing events, gotta ask: what happened to constant White House claim POTUS can do job equally well from anywhere? #bothparties," Halperin tweeted.
Helps Obama: During a June 2011 primary debate, Romney said he'd like to give the Federal Emergency Management Agency's powers to the states or the private sector. Asked if "disaster relief" was among the federal responsibilities Romney would like to eliminate, Romney said, "We cannot—we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids." He said later in the debate, "Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that's even better."
Sort of helps Romney: If power is out till Election Day in parts of Virginia, that could hurt Obama's get-out-the-vote operation. But Sandy is mostly affecting states that don't have early voting, Politico's Allen writes. Obama campaign manager Jim Messina denied Sandy would affect the campaign's ground game.
Helps Obama: "Put simply: No one can watch TV if their power’s out," Politico's Jonathan Allen writes. "So, so much for inundating them with TV ads." Romney has more money than Obama in the final week of the campaign, and will air more ads ... that people in eastern swing states won't see.