On Wednesday, Obama will travel to New Jersey to tour damaged areas with Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a regular critic of the president who heaped praise on him in the aftermath of the storm, saying that “the president has been all over this and he deserves great credit.”
The collaboration between Christie and Obama provided a stark contrast from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when President George W. Bush’s administration and that of Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) engaged in a bitter round of finger-pointing over the botched handling of the disaster.
The storm thrust Romney in the almost impossible position of trying to write a role for himself in the story that has gripped the nation’s attention. The GOP nominee held a relief event in Ohio to collect donations for storm victims, but the event had the trappings of a regular campaign rally, with the candidate’s standard theme music and biographical video. As Romney packed emergency supplies, he did not respond to reporters who asked whether he is reconsidering his earlier assertion that disaster management is a job that should be turned over to the states.
Obama’s performance could be viewed quite differently as federal relief efforts continue to play out. Whatever problems arise will largely be Obama’s to bear, just as Bush was blamed for Katrina.
“The storm is not over yet,” Obama cautioned during a Tuesday afternoon visit to the headquarters of the Red Cross in Washington. “We’re going to continue to push as hard as we can” to provide resources, he added, before emphasizing that his message to his administration is “no bureaucracy, no red tape.”
The storm also calls attention to a dynamic that all incumbents face: how to balance being president while running for reelection. Rarely, if ever, has a president had to deal with such a major disaster so close to Election Day, and any misstep or move that appears politically motivated could cost Obama with voters.
For now, the president’s Chicago-based reelection team is exhibiting no urgency to return him to the campaign trail. The campaign canceled two rallies in Ohio on Wednesday, and one aide said Obama’s schedule is being determined by the president, along with White House advisers such as David Plouffe and Chief of Staff Jacob Lew.
This aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly about internal strategy, suggested that at this point, the rallies are marginally helpful in getting supporters to vote, but that otherwise “the race is set.”