Mitt Romney canceled several campaign events Monday and Tuesday "out of sensitivity for the millions of Americans in the path of Hurricane Sandy," his campaign said. The GOP presidential nominee was scheduled to attend a Tuesday event in Ohio dedicated to hurricane relief, but he has to walk a fine line, say experts, keeping his campaign going while avoiding any suggestion that he's scoring points off the storm (which is no longer technically classified as a hurricane). "It's a very difficult situation for the challenger to strike the right note to not look too political but to also [be] empathetic with the victims," says Mary Kate Cary, a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. How has the monster storm that hammered the Northeast made Romney's final push toward next week's election more difficult? Here, three obstacles it's thrown in Romney's path:
1. Romney has ceded the spotlight to Obama
Romney has been trying not to completely "cede the mantle of leadership to Obama," say Jim Huhnhenn and Steve Peoples at The Associated Press. He has spoken by phone to officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Homeland Security Department, and the National Weather Service, and publicly warned those in the storm's path to expect extensive damage. "In the competition for attention, Obama held the edge, however," going on cable TV, live, to call for people to heed evacuation warnings and pull together. "Such is the advantage of incumbency, provided things don't go wrong."
2. This undermines Romney's final pitch in Virginia and New Hampshire
Romney is tied with Obama nationally, but he still needs to eke out gains in a few critical swing states, says James Joyner at Outside the Beltway, if he hopes to collect the 270 electoral votes he needs to win. It's "next to impossible to say how or whether the storm is going to impact [his] ability to persuade a relative handful of undecided voters" in the battlegrounds, but it's distinctly possible that he could "lose the race because he's unable to campaign in Virginia and New Hampshire in the final days." On the other hand, he's left with "an extra couple of days in Ohio," which could be "a blessing in disguise" if it improves his chances of winning there.
3. The storm derailed Romney's bid for Wisconsin
With Obama still favored in Ohio — the swing state many expect to decide next Tuesday's election — Team Romney was making a compensatory play for the long-reliably blue state of Wisconsin. Now-post-tropical storm Sandy "may be a safe distance from Wisconsin," says Matt Taylor at The Daily Beast, "but the Frankenstorm has upended Mitt Romney's late push to claim [its] 10 electoral votes." The GOP nominee "was compelled to ax an event in suburban Milwaukee, a GOP stronghold, Monday evening," and his team "apparently decided to stop politicking with flooding, power outages, and even deaths on the horizon," leaving Obama in command in Wisconsin, according to the latest polls.
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