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Is Hurricane Sandy a Gale-Force October Surprise?

Both campaigns said they were devoted to leaving politics out of the storm, but Sandy is leaving her mark on the election landscape.

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

October 30, 2012 - 4:14 pm
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A parade of politicians across the airwaves today — save for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) trying to draw attention to the Benghazi scandal — kept focus on the storm’s damage to their districts and recovery efforts.

“You see all these power lines and gas lines that are broken,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), whose 6th congressional district runs up the coast from Asbury Park inland to Plainfield, on CNN today. “…The devastation is unbelievable, homes that are, you know, carried away, destroyed. In Long Branch, two-thirds of the boardwalk is destroyed.”

“Houses are moved off their foundations,” Christie told a press conference today. “There are houses in the middle of Route 35.”

The governor said he’d been able to see pictures of the famed coastline relayed back to his command center from a police helicopter.

“The level of devastation at the Jersey Shore is unthinkable …to prepare the public for what they’re going to see, it is beyond anything I thought I’d ever see, terrible.”

With his 4th congressional district reaching from the Pennsylvania border to the ocean, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said on MSBNC that the coastal areas in his region — Point Pleasant, Belmar, Avon-by-the-Sea — are “absolutely devastated.”

Smith credited Christie with perhaps “saving many people’s lives” with his no-nonsense pulling together of the state’s resources and ordering evacuations in preparation for the storm.

“Everyone needs to be thinking as soon as we get out of this emergency mode, we go right into repair and obviously that’s where FEMA and, you know, the insurance needs to be accessed as quickly as possible,” the congressman said. “Because, you know, we’re approaching winter. So the sooner the rebuilding starts, the sooner people are back in their homes.”

Winter began full-force in mountainous inland regions thanks to Sandy’s catastrophic collision with a nor’easter, though — creating crippling snow accumulations that could also affect which voters get to the polls. Over the next few days it will become more apparent how this weather event will affect voters, from rural Virginia voters who skew Romney to populations in urban areas with flooding and power outages that could chip into Obama’s popular vote.

For Obama to be damaged by the storm, his federally directed efforts would have to be a Katrina-like failure or his appearances at disaster sites would have to be roundly interpreted as a photo op, even given the commander in chief’s job. Romney could be damaged by a presidential-caliber performance from Obama or by visiting a disaster site, which would be more likely to be spun into a photo op than an incumbent’s visit. Either man could be hurt by election irregularities.

Three possible Senate captures for the GOP are also in affected states: Connecticut, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, summed it up on Twitter three days before Sandy made landfall.

“Well timed Frankenstorm. Week before election, pols will stay home and fall all over themselves to serve us,” Sabato wrote. “Need power restored? Fallen tree removed? Call a candidate.”

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Bridget Johnson is a career journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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