Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Winning the week: How Hurricane Sandy could force presidential campaigns off course

A traveller takes a picture of a flight monitor showing all flights cancelled at LaGuardia airport in New York Oct. 28, 2012.

Adrees Latif/REUTERS

Each Monday, The Globe invites two strategists – a Democrat and a Republican – to share their take on what each campaign needs to do this week in order to win the White House.

Hurricane Sandy is expected to make landfall Monday night on the U.S. east coast – potentially causing misery and harm to millions – and just over a week when Americans go to the polls to choose a president.

President Barack Obama was scheduled to attend a campaign event in Orlando, Florida, on Monday. The White House says he is returning to Washington D.C. to monitor Hurricane Sandy preparations and response.

Story continues below advertisement

Mitt Romney is campaigning in Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin Monday and Tuesday.

A Politico and George Washington University tracking poll of battleground states shows President Obama has a retaken a narrow lead – 49 per cent versus 48 per cent.

The Obama and Romney presidential campaigns will have to step carefully as they respond to a looming crisis.

We asked two strategists – a Democrat and a Republican – to map out scenarios of how Hurricane Sandy could have an impact on the presidential campaign.

Ron Bonjean served as lead spokesman for Republican leaders on Capitol Hill and as head of public affairs to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the George W. Bush administration.

Most political junkies didn't expect to have Hurricane Sandy be the 2012 presidential campaign's October Surprise. A potentially catastrophic natural disaster is something that both sides had not planned for and there are only a few things that the Obama and Romney campaigns can do to adjust to the circumstances.

The first casualty of Hurricane Sandy has been the cancellation of early voting on Monday in Maryland by Governor Martin O'Malley. Other states are likely to follow.

Story continues below advertisement

In addition, both campaigns have had to adjust their schedules accordingly. The Obama and Romney campaigns are being forced to handle this by short-term feel instead of long-term planning. Until the storm makes landfall and we assess the potentially damage as well as recovery, we won't know just how much this will take the campaigns off course.

One would automatically think that a Hurricane Sandy would benefit Obama because he can use the power of the incumbency to visit disaster prone areas and utilize the administration's resources to its fullest extent.

If the power goes out for millions of Americans with massive flooding and wind damaged property, Obama will have to be careful about making his visits look too political. He may have to visit [Democratic-leaning] Delaware as well as [battleground] Virginia. Also, being the man-in-charge carries risks of upset homeowners waiting for their power to come back.

Romney has rerouted his campaign away from Virginia and is spending more time in Ohio, which is a wise use of his time. Right now, it's appropriate for Obama and Romney to keep campaigning. We'll know in a day whether or not this will change.

Linda Moore Forbes served in the Clinton White House and worked on Capitol Hill. She is a Democratic Party insider, political consultant and has worked on several presidential campaigns.

It is hard to believe the final presidential debate was last Monday. It seems like a month ago. But, almost everyone agrees that while President Obama won the second and third debates, Romney won the debate "season" because the first debate was the most important in changing the dynamics of the race.

Story continues below advertisement

With only eight days to go until Election Day, Governor Romney's momentum has peaked, President Obama's swing state firewall remains, and early voting is brisk. But this year's "October surprise" is Hurricane Sandy, which is expected to impact four swing states – New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina, and Virginia.

It is causing both candidates to scramble their plans for campaign appearances, particularly in Virginia, and their get-out-the-vote efforts, due to closed polling places during the storm and subsequent power outages.

It places a particular burden on President Obama, who could be seen as providing strong leadership in a crisis, but could also bear the brunt for the ineffective response to any unanticipated need.

Fewer days of early voting due to the storm is not good for anyone, least of all the Obama campaign, which typically wins 3-1 in early voting. It means fewer days to get all those who want to vote to the polls, and longer lines for them to wait in when they get there.

In addition to bracing for a storm, we are also bracing for two more things:

1. The possibility of not knowing the result of the presidential election on Nov. 6 or 7. It is looking increasingly likely Ohio will be so close that we will need to wait until absentee and provisional ballots are counted on Nov. 16, possibly later, to know the winner.

2. And/or, that we will have a split outcome on election night – that Romney will win the popular vote, but President Obama will win the electoral vote, going into a second term with nothing resembling a mandate.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to