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Beam: Has storm changed election?

Last Modified: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 9:18 PM

By Jim Beam / American Press

Superstorm Sandy has thrown a monkey wrench into what had quickly become a presidential race up for grabs. Republican nominee Mitt Romney was leading in the popular vote, but President Obama appeared to have the edge in electoral votes, which are the ones that count. However, neither candidate had a lock on the job.

Now, it’s anybody’s guess about where this campaign is headed. Respected political writers and analysts simply don’t know, and anyone who tells you he does is guessing or engaging in wishful thinking.

Prior to the storm, The Associated Press — once again — had given the election to Obama. Then it had the audacity to say its analysis wasn’t intended to predict the outcome.

Like Bob Schieffer, moderator of CBS’ “Face the Nation,” I prefer to put my trust in two of the most respected and nonpartisan political writers in the country. Charlie Cook is editor and publisher of the Cook Political Report. Stuart Rothenberg is editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report.

Schieffer said on his program Sunday he had spoken separately with both men about the election, and they said they had no idea how it was going to turn out. Rothenberg in an Oct. 26 column said, “In the final 10 days, swing voters certainly could collectively make a decision to rehire the president or to fire him. But at this point, it seems more likely that we are headed to a tight and possibly inconclusive election night.”

Cook said after the storm, “How Hurricane Sandy affects things is another matter; there is no way to credibly anticipate what it does to alter things.”

Beth Reinhard of National Journal, a credible political news magazine in the nation’s capital, said the storm could potentially crimp “Republican Mitt Romney’s post-debate momentum and President Obama’s much-hyped, early-vote operation.” She added that Obama could gain from effective handling of the storm’s aftermath, but his get-out-the-vote effort could be hampered by the hurricane’s destruction.

Some 35 percent of voters were expected to cast their ballots before Nov. 6, either in person or by mail. However, the storm is definitely going to lower that estimate.

There are two big unknowns: How is the fact that 8 million Americans in the Northeast lost electricity going to affect polling operations on Election Day? And are residents whose homes are burned, destroyed, flooded or severely damaged going to be able to vote or is it no longer a priority for them?

Time will answer both questions, but it’s growing short. Meanwhile, top leaders in the U.S. House and Senate haven’t had any serious talks about changing the election date, according to a campaign report by Billy House in National Journal. Congress does have that authority, he said, but changing the date could be more disruptive than using backup paper ballots, getting generators to polling places or giving voters emergency access to their voting booths.

Obama has been carrying out his presidential duties during the storm, but he has been able to fall back on an effective campaign stand-in — former President Bill Clinton.

Unfortunately, some of the organizations backing Obama have tried to use Sandy to take down Romney. Americans United for Change, for example, has sent a flooded of emails attacking Romney’s views on the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is directing the federal storm response.

Romney said last year he believed the role of states should be increased during emergencies and the federal role decreased. Fawn Johnson of National Journal said Romney and Obama have similar views on the job of FEMA.

“What Romney is describing is basically what’s happening now,” Johnson said. “FEMA exists solely to support states and cities that need help preparing for and recovering from storms.”

Is this a desperation tactic because of Romney’s improving poll numbers, or simply a tasteless attempt by an overzealous Obama organization? Whatever the case, it’s despicable during what is a national tragedy.

Rothenberg talked about another Democratic Party tactic that detracts from serious issues in this campaign. The party is running political ads for its presidential and congressional candidates on abortion, Planned Parenthood funding and stem cell research.

All of this is taking place, Rothenberg said, while the unemployment rate is still at 7.8 percent, the gross domestic product is growing at a sluggish 2 percent, young college graduates can’t find jobs and weakening economies overseas are posing problems for the U.S. economy.

Superstorm Sandy has placed most of these election issues on hold, and no one can predict what the campaign landscape will look like until the recovery effort gets under way.

House, in his National Journal piece, quoted Edward Foley, an election law expert at Ohio State University, on his take on the storm.

“So we are left with the situation where the people who probably most know where we might stand on Election Day are the utility companies,” Foley said.

The weekend may bring a clearer picture about where this presidential race is headed, but maybe not. The nation has never experienced a situation quite like the one created by this powerful, unique storm in the Northeast.

• • •

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com

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