At a time of disaster, politicians put their differences aside and cease campaigning, right? Well, it depends.
One week before Election Day, President Obama remains in Washington, overseeing the federal response to hurricane Sandy, which has devastated coastal areas in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. He canceled his campaign events for Monday, Tuesday, and now Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Mr. Obama did leave the White House, dropping by Red Cross headquarters and making remarks. The White House also announced he will travel Wednesday to New Jersey to view storm damage with Gov. Chris Christie.
Vice President Joe Biden has scrubbed part of his schedule, canceling events Tuesday in Ohio and on Thursday in his hometown of Scranton, Pa., but continuing with two rallies Wednesday in Florida. On Monday and Tuesday, he also recorded two interviews with Latino radio programs. First lady Michelle Obama has no public events on her schedule Tuesday or Wednesday.
But in addition to Mr. Biden’s activities, there’s plenty of other politicking going on – on both sides. Former President Bill Clinton, freed of governing responsibility, is on a major tour of key states this week, hitting Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado, Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin. The Obama campaign put out a TV ad Monday afternoon slamming a Romney ad from the day before on the auto bailout. And on Tuesday, the “Gotta Vote” bus tour, a joint venture by the Democratic National Committee and the Obama campaign, is making stops in Iowa, encouraging early voting.
As the party out of power, the Republicans are less constrained, though portraying most of their campaign activities as storm-related. Mitt Romney, running mate Paul Ryan, and Mr. Romney’s wife, Ann, are all making public appearances Tuesday in battleground states, mostly for “storm relief events.” Mr. Romney is in Ohio, the potential tipping-point state on Nov. 6. Ms. Romney is joining “storm relief collection efforts” at Romney offices in Wisconsin and Iowa, then appearing at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, later in the day.
Mr. Ryan is dropping by storm-relief efforts at Romney offices in Wisconsin Tuesday, and then appearing at three events in Wisconsin on Wednesday.
And Tuesday afternoon, the Romney campaign posted a 30-second ad on YouTube called “Can’t Afford Another Term,” aimed at women. Among its points: “more women in poverty than ever before.”
The day after hurricane Sandy made landfall, both Obama and Romney face political risks and rewards. If the public sees the president as handling the storm and its aftermath well, he gains in his image as a leader. But if he is seen to have failed in the disaster response, it could be politically devastating.
For Romney, strategizing around the storm is trickier. He clearly wants to appear engaged and concerned, but if he goes over the line appearing to politicize a disaster, he could harm his campaign, analysts say.
“A great danger for the Romney campaign, including all its principals, including Ann, is to pivot to criticism too early,” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
“Obama’s challenge is different,” he adds. “He has to be president and intently focused on this until we’re out of the worst of it. He can gain with a competent, even-handed response. But there’s also a danger, because people who go three, four days with no power, no showers, food rotting in the refrigerator are always upset. So this can turn on the Obama campaign.”
For now, though, Obama can conduct politics by other means – that is, burnishing his presidential image as he visits New Jersey on official business.
And early in the going, at least, Obama and Democrats are basking in the love of at least one high-profile Republican: Governor Christie of New Jersey. On several TV networks Tuesday morning, the voluble Christie praised the president’s handling of the storm. He noted that he and the president spoke three times Monday, including a midnight call from Obama.
Christie’s effusive praise has fueled speculation that he’s looking ahead to a presidential run of his own in 2016, implying that he may not want Romney to win next week.
In a separate appearance Tuesday morning on Fox News, Christie was asked if he might do any appearances soon with Romney touring storm damage in New Jersey. Christie’s reply: “I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested.”
But if Christie is suddenly the Democrats’ new favorite Republican, they might tread cautiously. If Christie decides that the Obama administration is underperforming in its storm response, he will surely let us know.