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Dylan Sharpe

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Events, Dear Boy...

Posted: 01/11/2012 14:20

While the social and economic effects of Superstorm Sandy on the United States aren't likely to be fully known for many months or even years, the short-term political effects will be felt unusually quickly when America votes next week.

Right now, scores of strategists employed in the Presidential, Congressional, Senate and Gubernatorial races across the U.S. are trying to fathom how a national disaster on this scale will impact on their candidate's messages, adverts, opponents and turnout on November 6.

The most high-profile of these is of course the race for the White House, and in this case it's hard to see beyond one candidate having gained the upper hand.

The biggest advantage for the incumbent in elections is holding the office. Yes, you have a record that your opponent can bash in every address and, inevitably, something will happen in the course of an election campaign that reflects poorly on your administration. But, as the incumbent you are able to look like you own the position - you aren't running for office. You are the office.

And that is what Sandy has offered up to Barack Obama.

As President it is Obama's duty to visit the devastated areas, make solemn speeches and bridge the partisan divide in a manner that few could doubt as authentic. As the challenger it is Mitt Romney's duty to walk the fine line between continuing to campaign and doing so while trying to avoid being seen as politicising a national tragedy.

As President, Obama will have hours of free media coverage as the crisis unfolds - not broadcasting his campaign messages, admittedly - but doing something even better: broadcasting him as'The President. As challenger, should he find himself in front of a camera, Romney is expected to praise his opponent in a non-partisan manner that will confirm he just doesn't have the same status as The President.

If Sandy had landed a month ago, you can bet that that the Romney campaign strategy would have been to sit tight, let Obama do his Presidential thing, and hope that his administration put a few feet wrong in the aftermath.

But when there are six days until polling day and hundreds of thousands on America's east coast still homeless, Romney has to stay out on the stump and hope the electorate has already made its mind up...and gone for Mitt.

And the moral of the story? You can plan the best, most perfect campaign (and that's not saying Romney's has come close to perfect) but, as Harold Macmillan once observed, "events, dear boy, events..."

 

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