A Different October Surprise

A Different October Surprise

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Many observers have been saying for a while now that the one total unknown which might clinch victory especially for Obama, that could drive the results one way or the other would be an October surprise; but no one suggested that it might come in the form of a meteorological one named Sandy. Given the turbulent activity predicted for the next several days, Sandy could have all types of consequences not only in terms of human tragedy and property damage but also for the election campaign.

This major storm has begun to wreak havoc with the schedules for both candidates in some of the key Eastern battleground states; Florida, Virginia, and Ohio. Events are being cancelled, rallies postponed, air schedules totally off, people disappointed, and campaign messages not being delivered.  It means moving Western events ahead perhaps and re-scheduling Eastern ones, and all of this predicated on the unpredictable scenario which might evolve as Mother Nature takes over control of politics.

There is another very key factor that Sandy presents. The President needs to be in charge and manage the weather crisis and Romney needs to measure very carefully how he responds to the President’s actions. When the nation faces a sudden emergency the nation generally pulls together, so Romney could be susceptible to all types of criticisms if he misspeaks. In addition, there is little he can do affirmatively, given that he has no political authority. Obama has the capacity to exhibit firm crisis management control, to dispatch assistance, to survey damage; to appear presidential.  At the same time he needs to avoid being political as he extends the hand of the Government to citizens in need.

Finally, hurricane disasters bump politics off the news. Human suffering trumps campaign shenanigans. Weather considerations will bump rally plans and families will address immediate needs in threatened swing states over engagement in political activities. Then the final week of the campaign, post Sandy, will carry with it another, unpredicted facet of the campaign; the effect of 2012 October surprise.

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