The political impact of the storm of 2012 is still uncertain, but it probably gives President Obama an advantage. First and most obviously, natural disasters allow presidents to present themselves as commanding and coming to the aid of endangered Americans. Simply put, the president can direct people and resources to those in need and serve as the nation's voice in expressing sympathy, concern and determination for our fellow citizens who need our collective help.
The only downside to this is the president could overplay his hand and appear to be posing or exploiting the situation for political gain. But the potential for image enhancement is there for the president, and it will be hard for him to miss the opportunity.
I'm sure the president and company are plotting now on how to get a picture of his touring a damaged area with a Republican governor from Virginia, Pennsylvania or Ohio in tow — or even with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R).
The president’s allies in the media would pick it up from there and herald Obama as the great bipartisan storm slayer.
However, the storm could also disrupt the president’s desperately needed early voting and voter-turnout organizational efforts. If the president’s campaign misses a few days of early voting and preparation for election-day turnout in places like south New Hampshire or Philadelphia or Northern Virginia — and, of course, in Ohio — it could make a dramatic difference, assuming a very close race.
Combine the storm's effect with the data from the new GWU/Battleground poll, which shows that the president's coalition groups are less enthusiastic about voting anyway, and the result could diminish voter turnout for the president. And who knows, that could make the difference.
As a memo from Battleground pollster the Tarrance Group puts it, “Should this election not have the same turnout pattern as 2008 and be more evenly distributed between Republicans and Democrats as it was in 2004, much of the president's winning coalition will be minimized. The intensity gap disadvantage and the vote banking efforts of the Democrats will continue to present a significant strategic challenge for his campaign.”
On the other hand, Mitt Romney’s campaign will suffer the same disruption for their voter-turnout plans as Obama. The difference is that Romney’s coalition is made up of groups that are more likely to get themselves to the polls.
But if nothing else, the storm itself gives Obama the advantage because it prevents more public debate about the state of America’s economy. As this Insider has said all along, if this election is about the economy, Obama might lose. If it is about something else, he will probably win.
Well, this storm is something else. And if you're watching the news today, the storm isn't just one more story in America, it's a media roadblock. Every news channel has become the storm channel. I haven't heard a peep about the economy since Friday. The Obama campaign has got to be dancing in the rain over their good fortune.
So while the storm is a tragedy on so many levels and for so many of our fellow citizens, it's another example of how lucky Obama is. Obama has needed a gift from God to change the momentum of the race. Well, this could be it.