As President Obama and Mitt Romney approach the final week of the campaign, a severe storm bearing down on the East Coast could test the president’s leadership at a crucial time in his reelection bid and shift national attention toward an unexpected event.
Hurricane Sandy, which has already claimed the lives of 29 people in the Caribbean, could make landfall on the East Coast of the United States early next week, giving both candidates an extra variable to consider as the campaign season reaches its climax.
But for Obama in particular, the storm’s impact will be a test. There are a few key reasons for this.
For one thing, he is the president. The federal government’s response to the storm will ultimately be his responsibility. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Thursday that the president’s concern about the storm is making sure people in potentially affected areas prepare accordingly.
“We leave it to the professionals to track storms and make predictions about where it will travel. The President’s concern about this storm is making sure that citizens in potentially affected areas are aware of it and taking the necessary precautions, and making sure that FEMA is working as necessary with local officials in preparation for a storm,” Carney said.
Sandy is going to remain a national story for days, and as such, will be atop the minds of many voters. They’ll be watching to see the federal agencies which fall under the president's oversight respond to the disaster, and how he reacts.
For Romney, too, the storm could factor in to what he says and does during the final week of the race. At nearly every turn, Romney has been assailing the president’s record. But he may soon have to judge how much – if any -- vitriol is appropriate during and immediately after a natural disaster.
There are also scheduling considerations the campaigns will be forced to make. As Rachel Weiner noted on Election 2012 earlier Friday, Virginia and North Carolina – two crucial states in the election – are in the path of the storm, and Romney has already canceled a planned rally in Virginia Beach.
Finally, the storm could threaten to overshadow a major event next week that will be seen as an important indicator of Obama’s chances on Nov. 6: The final monthly jobs report slated to be released on Friday. Both campaigns have long eyed the release, realizing it will be among the last major economic metrics voters will be exposed to before they head to the polls on Nov. 6. Depending on how much attention Sandy receives, the jobs report might or might not be as prominent in the public’s consciousness as observers had originally anticipated.
A senior campaign Obama adviser noted Friday that the president must constantly monitor domestic and national security issues, and Sandy "will be one more thing for the plate.”
Campaigns are difficult to predict, and so is the weather. Next week will serve as a reminder on both fronts.