Opinion Brief

Hurricane Sandy: Does it help President Obama politically?

The deadly storm has upended the presidential race — and given the incumbent a potential advantage just a week before Election Day

With Hurricane Sandy barreling toward the East Coast, the presidential campaign has been virtually put on hold. President Obama and Mitt Romney have both canceled appearances in the heavily contested swing state of Virginia, as well as in other states, and early voting pushes in eastern states will likely grind to a halt. There's a very real possibility that Sandy, a mutant Frankenstorm of seemingly epic proportions, could "warp an election two years and $2 billion in the making," says Peter Baker at The New York Times. And as the campaigns pause to readjust under the storm's shadow, there could be some huge political benefits for the one candidate who actually has a job: The incumbent. Does Sandy help Obama politically?

Yes. Natural disasters are in the president's wheelhouse: "The beauty of being a president and a candidate is that when a monster storm stalks up the East Coast you can run over to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and be seen as a president on the job," says Candy Crowley at CNN. "Which also works if you are reapplying." Romney, on the other hand, can't be seen campaigning amidst so much uncertainty, since "just the forecast of a potential disaster can make politics look small." Romney is "not in power," and "can't really do much" but wait and watch. "Sandy introduces big unknown into campaign"

But the storm could easily backfire on Obama: "Does Obama have a natural advantage because he's president? The short answer: Yes," says Jonathan Allen at Politico. "The longer answer: Not if he makes an unforced error." George W. Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina "ranks among the worst blunders in modern presidential history," and a similarly incompetent reaction from Obama could doom him in the final days of the race. "As president, Obama's best politics are to simply do his job well." "Hurricane Sandy: 5 political questions"

Either way, the storm is already hurting Romney: "As Hurricane Sandy looms and flooding begins, the Republican presidential candidate's primary remarks are getting a second look," says Garance Franke-Ruta at The Atlantic. During a GOP debate, Romney "said America shouldn't be in the business of providing federal disaster relief and that it would be better for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's functions to be handled by individual states or even the private sector." That comment looks immensely short-sighted right about now. "Mitt Romney in 2011: 'We cannot afford' federal disaster relief"

Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.

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