An Unscripted October Surprise
Only days before the presidential election, Superstorm Sandy handed President Obama an unanticipated spotlight in which to act as commander-in-chief. It also framed with particular clarity the basic question of the campaign: What should be the rightful role and limits of the federal government?
For critical days, Obama swiftly and decisively seized -- and dramatized -- his national leadership responsibility, eclipsing challenger
The Romney camp's decision to turn a planned campaign rally into a food donation relief effort -- reportedly with the campaign buying and supplying attendees with goods to be handed to Romney as the cameras rolled -- was particularly clumsy. What the responders, including the
At the same time, Obama was touring the Atlantic coastline disaster in
Whether Sandy's intrusion on the campaign had a deleterious impact on early voting, on which the Obama forces were heavily depending, will only be sorted out when the election results are in on Tuesday -- or possibly later, as in the 2000 election.
In any event, the whole destructive experience of a superstorm hitting a heavily populated region of the country that has usually escaped such damage rekindled the debate over the role of the federal government.
On the surface, it was easy for commentators to draw a comparison between Obama's conduct and that of his Republican predecessor at the start of Hurricane Katrina, which decimated
Beyond that, the Sandy disaster provided a timely framework for Obama's we're-all-in-this-together pitch for collective community action in times of domestic crisis. The surfacing in the news media of Romney's year-old debate comment that the states should bear more responsibility for relief efforts, and the suggestion that the private sector could even take them over, had the Romney camp scampering for cover.
All through the Republican primaries this year, Romney intentionally and conspicuously lurched to the right to assuage critical or just doubting conservatives about his "severely conservative" credentials. Now, at the campaign's 11th hour, as he has busied himself reverting to moderate Massachusetts Mitt to court independent and undecided voters, circumstances have put the rule of activist federal government front and center again.
Romney's post-Sandy demeanor risks casting him as a me-too candidate, in the same way his rush in the final debate with Obama to embrace many of the same foreign-policy positions of this opponent sought to blur distinctions and calm voter concerns that a Romney presidency might augur a return to Dubya's reckless adventurism.
In the end, this year's October Surprise was not any concocted political event or initiative, but instead an uninvited act of nature that incalculably complicated what polls told us was an uncommonly close election.
Both nominees spent much of the fall campaign calling this election a referendum on how involved Americans want their federal leaders to be in the conduct of their daily lives. Sandy provided a pertinent test of what many on one side regard unwarranted intrusion -- except of course, in times of emergency.
In reading the tea leaves for clues on Tuesday's outcome, there will be an abundance of other factors, positions taken or avoided, as well as how Sandy affected voter turnout in the critical swing states, most not hit hard by the superstorm. But if Obama wins and Romney loses, how this crisis reinforced the argument for hands-on government will certainly merit strong consideration.
Read the latest political news.
- United States Presidential Elections in Perspective
- Early Latino Turnout Could Swing Vote
- A Letter to Women Voters
- The Final Days, The Biggest Issue and The Clearest Choice
- Another Electoral College Nightmare?
- Why We're Still in Deep Trouble No Matter Who Wins The Presidency
- FEMA vs 'Romnesia'
- An Unscripted October Surprise
- Stormy Weather Politics
- Storm Saves Obama From Himself
- A Romney Presidency Would Erase Decades of Progress
- President Obama Has Earned Our Trust -- and Our Vote
- Conservatives Long for the Sad Days of Yesteryear
- The Key Election Factor -- Hispanic Turnout
- Presidential race will be 'all about turnout'
- Romney: Obama Victory Would Mean More Gridlock
- Obama: 'You Know I Tell the Truth'
- Romney Pledges Bipartisanship in Final Push
- Gaffes and Zingers, Highlights of Mitt Romney's Campaign
- Women Voters: Kingmakers in 2012
- Obama: 'We've Got More Work to Do'
- The Uncool President
- The 2012 Choice
- Busting Myths about Benghazi
- Benghazi -- No Mere 'October surprise'
- The Vanishing Act of Dubya
- Not an Easy Makeover for Florida Representative Allen West
- What Men of the GOP Don't Get About Rape and Abortion
- In GOP View, Life is Sacred ... Except When It's Not
- Romney the Wrong Man to Handle United States Foreign Policy
- Mitt Romney AWOL in Foreign Policy Debate
- How the Election Could Go Wrong for Romney
- Mitt Romney's Question-Mark Economy
- Will Money Talk?
An Unscripted October Surprise | Politics
(c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc