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Magazine / Common Sense

Will Sandy Shake Up Presidential Contest?

A vehicle is submerged on 14th Street near the Consolidated Edison power plant, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in New York. Sandy knocked out power to at least 3.1 million people, and New York's main utility said large sections of Manhattan had been plunged into darkness by the storm, with 250,000 customers without power as water pressed into the island from three sides, flooding rail yards, subway tracks, tunnels and roads.  (AP Photo/ John Minchillo)

photo of Matthew  Dowd
October 30, 2012

To paraphrase the movie Apollo 13, “Election, we have a problem.” The fury and damage done by Hurricane Sandy, suddenly a key player in this election, has thrown a total monkey wrench in the trajectory of the presidential campaign. My thoughts and prayers are with all the families affected by Sandy—and with the media and folks who still want to get a read on this race.

During the mission of Apollo 13, there was a moment in the course of its difficult journey back home when all communication with Mission Control was lost. And in those tense minutes of the blackout, no one outside the module knew what was happening. People held their breath as they waited to hear from the astronauts to learn how the men were faring on their return to Earth. We are at that exact point in this race. 

For now, many political polling firms have opted to stop surveying as Americans recover from this horrible natural disaster. And any polls actually conducted right now are useless in telling us what is going on. Both candidates have basically stopped campaigning, with President Obama occupied in his day job of making sure the government is on task in the recovery. We are in that blackout period in this election like Apollo 13's, and we have to wait to get a signal from the voters as we get through this mess caused by Sandy. 

 

My advice to everyone is to hold your breath, say a prayer for everyone affected or donate to the recovery, wait as patiently as you can, and ignore any polls until this weekend at the earliest. Up until Sandy hit the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, this extremely tight race had been roughly stagnant for two weeks. Mitt Romney had a slight advantage in the national popular vote, and Obama had a slight advantage in the Electoral College. (A split between the popular vote and Electoral College I spoke about as a possibility in a column in June.) That is the last signal we had as of Monday morning.

Sandy could turn this race in a way none of us anticipated. A few months ago, I said there would be five events in October that would determine who was going to get elected: three presidential debates, one vice presidential debate, and an unexpected event. I never anticipated the unexpected moment would be a hurricane of historic size hitting the most populous regions of the country. Just shows you there are some things in life we can’t predict or control—an important lesson in life and politics. Now, we wait and see what the result of all this will be.

Some have speculated that this could help Romney because people will be upset about the damage and want to blame someone, and the easiest way to do that is vote against Obama. Others speculate this would help the president if he shows clear and strong leadership through this crisis. We don’t actually know what will happen. Though at this point I side with the folks who say Obama is likely to get a small lift from this because he can demonstrate his ability as a leader and not have to be a candidate, I don’t really know either. (I did have a premonition in my sleep last night where I was standing in a football field looking up at the scoreboard the day before Election Day and Obama had won the game. I know, I know, I need a life.)

We all just need to wait and see once the voters give us a clear signal as we pass out of this lost-communication period. Here are a couple of thoughts in the meantime to help you get through this nervous moment:

  1. Again, ignore any polls that come out right now. They will either be wrong or won’t capture what is happening until this weekend.
  2. Don’t pay any attention to campaign memos and analyses circulated by either side. They have no idea either. And any analysis based on what was happening before Sandy is useless at this point.
  3. Ignore most all of what you are going to hear from pundits on what they think is going to happen or how this is going to help or hurt either side in this campaign.
  4. Get ready for a crazy ride in the final three days of this race. It is going to be fast and furious, and the dynamics of this are going to largely be out of the hands of the campaign operatives. Voters are going to determine what happens, not advertising or the size of rallies.
  5. Hug your kids and loved ones, spend time with your friends, check on people who you know who were affected by Sandy, make a donation of time or money or prayer, and remember that life is so incredibly precious, short, and unpredictable.

See you at splashdown on Nov. 6.

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