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Superstorm Sandy’s destruction alters election plans

Courtesy of MCT

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The final week leading up to the election hasn’t gone exactly as planned.
President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney both had to cancel campaign stops this week due to Superstorm Sandy, losing the opportunity to potentially convince just a few more voters in key swing states.
Obama canceled events planned for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, including events in Ohio.
According to an Obama for America release, Obama’s Wednesday stops were canceled so he could remain in Washington, D.C., to monitor the storm’s progress.
Vice President Joe Biden was scheduled to make appearances in Wooster, Ohio, and Gambier, Ohio, Tuesday as well as Scranton, Pa., Thursday, and all three events were canceled by the Obama campaign Monday.
The events were canceled “to ensure that all local law enforcement and emergency management resources can stay focused on ensuring the safety of people who might be impacted by the storm,” according to a campaign release.
Wednesday Obama took a trip to New Jersey where he flew over the shoreline to access damage from the superstorm with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Following his tour, Obama held a press conference where he addressed a crowd on recovery efforts.
“We are here for you,” Obama told the New Jersey crowd. “We will follow up to make sure you get the help you need until you rebuild.”
As the storm passes, many have returned their thoughts to the election.
Ohio State political science professor Paul Beck said, “we have not had a catastrophe of this size this close to the election, at least in recent memory,” but doesn’t think it will change the outcome of the election or have much influence on voter turnout.
“I think we probably have enough time,” said Beck in a Wednesday interview.
With backup generators and relief efforts, Beck said he thinks the polls should be up and running by Tuesday, and that the damage shouldn’t keep determined voters away.
Beck said the East Coast states most affected by the storm normally vote Democratic by enough of a margin that even if some voters chose not to or were unable to get to the polls, Obama would still win in states like New Jersey and New York. The same, he said, could be expected of Republican-leaning West Virginia that saw heavy snowfall this week.
However, Beck said Virginia, the only swing state in immediate danger of heavy storm damage, could be affected by the storm.
“Generally it is people who have lesser means, lesser income, lesser wealth … they are fixated on how they are going to get themselves out of this particular disaster rather than how they’re going to vote on Tuesday,” Beck said.
Beck said because of the storm, lower-income voters who are known for being more likely to vote Democratic might be put off by the storm or find themselves unable to make it to the polls Tuesday.
OSU associate professor of geography Jay Hobgood said that in some areas most affected by the storm, polling locations might have to be moved at the last minute.
“I know some towns on the coast of New Jersey are still flooded and they’re rescuing people. Those towns don’t have any electricity,” Hobgood said. “At this point they don’t know if the polling places are underwater.”
Romney canceled events Monday as well but returned to Dayton Tuesday for an event originally scheduled to be a campaign rally. In light of the storm however, it was made instead into a disaster relief effort.
Obama had to cancel several campaign events in order to attend to the relief efforts, but Beck said if all goes well in recovery during the days leading up to the election, it could work in his favor.
However, if efforts are criticized the way they were following Hurricane Katrina, a 2005 Gulf Coast storm that killed nearly 2,000 people, Obama could see some backlash the same way former President George W. Bush did when people deemed FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) efforts to be ineffective.
“If the handling of that (Superstorm Sandy) by FEMA and by the federal government is not perceived to be effective, then it could be returned as negative for the president,” Beck said.
Hobgood said as commander-in-chief, Obama has a duty to focus his attention on protecting citizens throughout the superstorm and recovery.
“The president sort of has to make the relief efforts his primary focus, that’s his job, and it looks like he’s not doing his job if he doesn’t do that,” he said. “The president has to walk a very fine line. He can’t look like he’s more interested in getting elected than doing this job.”
Without the responsibility of handling a natural disaster on a federal level, Romney has been able to stay visible in swing states, however, Beck said the situation puts Romney in a bind.
“It probably doesn’t look good for him to be out there bashing President Obama as he has been out on the campaign while President Obama has been handling this disaster,” he said.
Hobgood said while there isn’t anything wrong with him continuing to campaign, Romney needs to be “sympathetic to the people who were affected by the storms.”
“People want to feel that you care about them,” he said.
However, Beck said campaigning shouldn’t be called off completely.
“I think it should continue, there’s no question on that,” he said, and added that unless it is interfering with relief efforts, it is important to the democratic process.
The Romney campaign has received some backlash for not canceling former campaign rallies all together, but some students don’t think that’s necessary.
“I honestly really don’t think they should have to suspend their campaign just because of a natural disaster. Maybe temporarily, but only for a few days,” said Sam Frye, a first-year in political science and history.
Other students agreed but said the candidates needed to be sensitive about the situation.
“I don’t necessarily think that the campaigning should be suspended because of the storm recovery, but I definitely think the candidates have to be more sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people on the East Coast, the election is far from the most important thing that they have to be worried about at the moment,” said Josh Colley, a first-year in chemistry.
Romney is scheduled to make an appearance with vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan in West Chester, Ohio, on Friday after returning to a full day of campaigning on Wednesday, when Romney made a stop in Tampa Bay, Fla. and Ryan a stop in Eau Claire, Wis.
While Obama has canceled several Ohio events, the state hasn’t been forgotten in the storm. The Obama campaign scheduled an event in Central Ohio Friday morning at the Franklin County fairgrounds in Hilliard, Ohio.
Gallup polling was suspended as of Monday due to the storm, but according to data from the most recent seven-day rolling Gallup poll, Obama and Romney were tied at 48 percent for registered voters, but Romney leads 51 percent to Obama’s 46 percent in likely voters.
Hobgood said it will be a “week or two before things start to get significantly better” in areas that weren’t hit hard by the storm. However, areas that were severely damaged, such as parts of the New Jersey shoreline, might not be fully recovered for “months if not years.”

Joel Thomas and Shay Trotter contributed to this article.

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