Sandy sidelines candidates in last days of campaign
With just eight days until Election Day, Hurricane Sandy is sidelining candidates just as they’re working to motivate every last supporter to vote.
Mitt and Ann Romney canceled visits to New Hampshire yesterday and today. Vice President Joe Biden, too. First Lady Michelle Obama won’t be at the University of New Hampshire. Congressional candidates Frank Guinta and Carol Shea-Porter are hoping to reschedule the televised debate they were to have last night to Friday.
Both political parties told candidates to pull their yard signs yesterday to keep them from becoming flying debris.
But is it really precious time lost? No, said Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the state Republican Party.
“I think it’s not much different than having the presidential primary right after Christmas,” he said. “Campaigns make small adjustments, and I don’t think voters notice or care. If anything, it’s a chance for campaigns to regroup and do a little bit of planning in this chaotic sprint to the campaign finish line.”
That’s true as long as the power outages aren’t widespread and long-lasting, said Dante Scala, an associate professor of political science at UNH.
“If it’s only scattered outages and things are back to normal by Thursday, it’s an inconvenience and will put campaigns back a bit in terms of what they had planned to do,” Scala said. “But voters certainly have more on their minds today than campaigns.”
But Sandy does present candidates, especially President Obama and Mitt Romney, a special challenge, said Dean Spiliotes, a political analyst.
Obama has to fulfill his presidential role and tend to storm damage without appearing disappointed about being pulled off the campaign trail at a critical time, Spiliotes said. And Romney cannot come off as a “shadow president” as he drops his stump speech to focus on victims of the storm.
“For both Obama and Romney, how they handle this is a double-edged sword,” Spiliotes said.
Candidates were gingerly walking that line yesterday, trying to stay in the news without appearing insensitive. In addition to canceling events, both presidential campaigns announced they were suspending fundraising efforts in states hit by the hurricane.
The Romney campaign urged supporters to leave bottled water and supplies at campaign offices or to donate to the Red Cross. And the campaign turned Romney’s tour bus into a supply delivery vehicle.
Ann Romney was supposed to visit New Hampshire this week but won’t now because of the storm, said campaign spokesman Tommy Schultz. “Out of concern for the safety of folks, we don’t want to tie up any first-responders,” he said.
Instead, volunteers were calling voters at home and knocking on doors “until it felt unsafe to do so,” Schultz said.
Obama had the advantage of being in New Hampshire on Saturday for a campaign rally, just before the storm arrived. And the campaign announced yesterday that former president Bill Clinton will be back in the state before Election Day.
Campaign officials also held a conference call for news media yesterday, mainly to express confidence in their candidate. But several reporters from across the country asked about the campaign’s decision to cancel visits so close to Election Day.
“We continue to believe that on the ground, we will be able to turn out voters,” said Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, in a conference call with the media yesterday. “But there is a time for politics, and right now we have to focus on the storm, and that is what we are doing.”
The storm would have posed a significant problem if it arrived this time next week.
Secretary of State Bill Gardner said in the last 40 years bad weather has coincided with only one election: That was a snowstorm during the 1984 presidential primary. Then-Gov. John Sununu had the state plow crews working “triple overtime” Gardner said.
Even the blizzard didn’t keep people from the polls, Gardner said. When he went to his polling place after work that day, Gardner found about 50 people in line ahead of him, all bundled up in winter hats and jackets.
Gardner said New Hampshire has been spoiled with attention from the presidential candidates this election season. Never before have candidates made so many trips to the state after the primary, he said.
“We are not accustomed to this,” he said.
So maybe Cullen is right. Few will notice their absence for a few days.
(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323 or email@example.com.)