Political Animal


October 30, 2012 5:32 PM Which Way the Wind Blows

By Ed Kilgore

The Washington Monthly’s media consultant asked me earlier today if I wanted to go on radio to talk about Sandy’s impact on the election, and I responded that I was probably as qualified to offer ill-informed speculation as anyone else. With the storm still raging and the recovery just now getting underway, it seems hard to make any hard judgments about something this so unprecedented so close to a national election.

But at TNR, Alec MacGillis gets about as close to the heart of the question as one can at this early juncture: Sandy’s impact probably depends on the extent to which anyone out there (i.e., undecided voters) is still paying attention to the policy choices the two candidates represent:

If one believes that we were completely into the turnout phase, then the storm poses a bigger threat to Obama. As my colleague Nate Cohn has argued, the 2012 race really is about turnout, and specifically the turnout of Obama supporters—to the extent that Obama can make the final tally look more like the “registered voter” line in the polls, where he generally leads, rather than the “likely voter” line, where things are much tighter, he wins. From this standpoint, anything that makes voting less convenient is bad for the Democrats—this is why Republicans fight so aggressively against expanding early voting hours. And indeed, the storm has made things less convenient. In swing-state Virginia, for instance, in-person absentee voting was suspended in 26 cities and counties Monday, mostly in the Democratic vote-troves of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads…
But to the extent that the race was still an open question, with some voters still making up their minds or willing to change them at the last instant, it is hard not to believe that the storm has helped the president. Put simply, it has brought the race back closer to first principles. For most of the year, Obama had successfully framed the election as a choice between two approaches, one favoring the Bain Capital upper crust, the other geared toward the broad middle—the 99 percent and, yes, the 47 percent. But then came Romney’s great Etch-a-Sketch moment in the Denver debate and his subsequent blurring of distinctions on everything from health care to tax cuts to foreign policy. After initially being caught off balance, Obama was finding a way to build the case that such a revision could not be trusted, and had, the more empirically-minded pundits agreed, brought Romney’s surge to a plateau where Obama still held a slight but crucial battleground edge.

In other words, Sandy could be the exclamation point on Obama’s framing of the election, and the “big” event that made the choice facing voters seem equally “big”—big enough, in fact, to compel an extra effort to vote.

Like Alec, I’m not sure which way this particular wind is blowing: a reminder of the true differences between the parties, or a little voter suppression help from nature. But for the sake of a reasonably honest election, let’s hope it’s the former.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • T2 on October 30, 2012 5:46 PM:

    seems to me the big question is what % of the affected states voting apparatus has been destroyed or compromised? Will voters have fewer polling places, resulting in longer lines or requiring cross town travel on sketchy roads? In other words, are those in the affected areas going to be able to vote at all, let alone for which candidate.

  • cwolf on October 30, 2012 5:48 PM:

    Romney wants to demolish FEMA.
    But some parts of Mordor really like FEMA.
    Tornado alley and the Gulf Coast come to mind.

    But the place that likely loves FEMA most is Florida.

    Press on this button & Romney will even lost the Cuban refugee vote.

  • Delibrarian on October 30, 2012 5:50 PM:

    All of this is prefaced with the statement that everyone affected should be supported, in both their emergency needs and their enfranchisement. Early voting aside, isn't there a case to argue that this type of disruption might tend to favor Dems? Hypothesize a statewide natural disaster in PA, for instance- it would be somewhat more likely that polling in urban areas would be better off on election day, with power restored and transportation rolling, compared to the "god and guns" parts of the state where roads might still be blocked and polling stations might have to be relocated making them inconvenient or hard-to-find. In Ohio, as another example, Cincinnati and Toledo should be out of the woods by next week, but who knows about the coal country in the South of the state that Romney has been assiduously courting as his firewall. They might still be under a foot of snow come Election Day.

  • Rieux on October 30, 2012 5:59 PM:

    Philadelphia appears to have come through pretty much unscathed, with the only still-lasting damage in the (red) suburbs. Haven't heard much about Pittsburgh. Has NoVa really been harmed that much?

    If those three areas have sustained little-to-no damage, I don't see how the storm will present turnout problems for Dems. "Pennsyltucky" (which got blasted) and now-snowy Appalachian Virginia could theoretically be a different story... but even if not, it's hard to see how the storm hurts Obama as long as he and FEMA don't bungle the response. Presumably right-leaning pundits will do whatever they can to argue that's what's going on.

  • c u n d gulag on October 30, 2012 6:17 PM:

    I wish I had something definitive to say on this subject.

    My opinion is that a lot will depend on how the MSM handles this situation.

    Will they keep pressing Romney on what his views are on FEMA?
    He's dodged them for two days when they've asked.
    Will they make a big deal of it?

    What will they say about President Obama's stewardship of this epic disaster?
    Will they give him and the Federal Government credit for doing as good a job as possible?
    Or, will they whine endlessly about why the subways they don't ride anyway, aren't up and operating within a few days?
    Oh, and someone's cat is still up in a tree in Staten Island on Friday?

    So far, the MSM has been determined to make this seem like a close election.

    What I'm wondering, is that with this storm devastating the NE, and now making its way across the Mid West, is how little polling will get done, and what that will do to the feckin' idiots in our punTWITocracy.

    Maybe the MSM will FINALLY have to talk about issues, as opposed to Rasmussen's and Gallup's best efforts to skey the overall polling numbers in favor of Romney.
    Yeah, THAT'LL happen!

  • bigtuna on October 30, 2012 7:07 PM:

    If the frame becomes:

    Romney Ryan would defund things like FEMA and emergency prep, AND make a VERY CLEAR point that AT the time millions are suffering, Romney Ryan were running lies in Ohio, repudiated by the very company he was talking about

    then it could slant to Obama;s way.

  • Mimikatz on October 30, 2012 7:09 PM:

    I detect some real brewing exasperation on the part of the press toward Romney. First, there are the increasingly fallacious ads about the auto bailout and Jeep making Jeeps in China that are so bad the CEOs of GM and Chrysler have issued statements condemning them. Second is the Romney disaster relief concert that was a thinly disguised "victory rally". Press people really saw through that one, from the Obama bashing to the useless canned goods they were collecting from people.

    It may just be that Mitt has jumped the shark with these two striking bits of dishonesty. Oh, and only calling GOP governors in the storm area and Chris Christie refusing to let him be seen touring damage while he praised Obama to the skies.

    All the last minute ads will have less effect because people will be focused on the storm, friends and family in the affected area as well as their own lives. 304 EVs for Obama, 234 for Romney, narrow Obama popular vote lead. 52 Dems and 48 GOPsters in the Senate and House stays GOP but by 223-212.

  • rrk1 on October 30, 2012 7:40 PM:

    Sandy's performance a week before the elections has at least one salutary outcome: It has stopped the mindless, endless, polling. And while the MSM is doing its best to ignore the obvious climate change implications, which can no longer be ignored, whispers are beginning to appear. Think about it. As Andrew Cuomo said, we're having the hundred year storm now every year. Statistically to have two such events two years in succession should be about a once in 10,000 year occurrence, but these are not purely random events. Obviously the preconditions for such severe storms as Irene and Sandy are in place, and they are the new normal. Thus we can only expect more of the same.

    It's impossible to predict the effect on the elections. Too many variables. The bullshit punditrocracy is flumoxed, and the thought of that is delightful.

  • peej on October 30, 2012 7:53 PM:

    All I know is that I live in the affected area and have gotten my mail delivery for the past two days. UPS held up a scheduled shipment due to the hurricane. Hooray for unionized government (or quasi-government) workers!

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on October 31, 2012 8:49 AM:

    MD lost a day or so of early voting, but will make up all but one hour of it this week. Fair enough.

    That said, the best thing to come out of endless "STORM OF THE CENTURY" coverage of Sandy: I didn't have to suffer with endless "ELECTION OF THE CENTURY" coverage. It was actually pretty nice to not have to listen to the pundits yammer nonstop about the the so-called "horse race" election for nearly four whole days (Friday through Tuesday). It was heaven on earth to this citizen!

  • boatboy_srq on October 31, 2012 9:08 AM:

    @cwolf: Florida >hates FEMA. Florida hates FEMA with a passion. Floridians spew hatred of FEMA every time they take emergency bottled water, relief supplies, and donated building materials following every major storm.

    The only time I remember Florida not actively hating FEMA was 2004, when all the storm recovery from the Charlie/Frances/Ivan/Jeannie season got absorbed by the state disaster recovery agency - and FEMA stayed in Washington. It was an election year, and the governor's brother was in the WH. Imagine that.