This is completely unprecedented. Never in United States history has there been a natural disaster of such devastation occurring with less then a week of the presidential election. There are up to 39 people tragically lost on the east coast, whole communities flooded, and hundreds of thousands of people without power. To be honest I am so glad I am not in President Obama’s or Governor Romney’s shoes because there is nothing trickier then campaigning in a disaster’s wake. Think about it! In a campaign that has been mainly focused on name-calling and quarrels over miniscule issues, the two candidates must tread very lightly to not enter back into their campaigning before a proper mourning period is over. What is the considerate amount of time to wait after a natural disaster? I have no idea, and honestly I don’t know if Obama or Romney has any idea either. Here are five things to watch out for as Obama and Romney, “transition through the familiar steps of empathy, assistance, and back to full-throated campaigning”.
1. Subduing Negativity
This is probably one of trickiest aspects of campaigning after a disaster. When in the world is an appropriate time to continue political attacks? If a candidate starts attacking the other candidate too quickly it will seem insensitive and the public will not tolerate the candidate’s obvious lack of tact. However if the candidate waits too long they may miss vitally important opportunities to imprint their ideologies into their voters’ minds. So far neither campaign has pulled any of their advertising in any of the swing states inside or outside of Sandy’s path. Obama has canceled his campaign events through Wednesday and he will tour through New Jersey and offer his condolences. Romney continued to press forward on Tuesday campaigning in Ohio but under the name of relief effort. Both candidates are still playing it safe and will until they feel it is an appropriate time to surge forward, but when is that time?
2. Quick Thinking
When you are running for president nothing is spontaneous. Every appearance, speech, and press conference is edited and reedited to make sure they are perfect. Appearance is everything. This is why natural disasters are terrifying this close in a presidential election because they require an immediate response. Political responses to disasters “are as much about instinct as science”. With only a week left in the election, there is very little time for campaigns to poll or focus group their way through this one. Both candidates have to be quick on their feet and they have to decide immediately how the want to proceed with this disaster. Already in this election Romney has been heavily criticized for disparaging Obama over the attacks on the Benhazi Consulate before learning that Ambassador Chris Stevens had be killed.
3. Looking busy
Yes, this is the sad part about politics. Even if a candidate is actually doing nothing but he or she appears busy this will please the public. The public wants to see our future leaders taking action and taking action now. This is a lot easier for Obama to do because he has the incumbency advantage. Obama has a lot more resources to take action whereas Romney can only now offer words of comfort, which may negatively impact him in this election. For example after the terrible shooting in the theater in Colorado, Obama could “sweep into town with resources in tow, mobilize the federal government’s response and offer comforting words for the victims. Romney arrived in both Louisiana and Colorado with nothing to offer beyond encouraging words”. Studies have shown that people need to see their leaders doing something after large disasters and unfortunately for Romney this is going to be very difficult and may have a slight effect on the election.
4. “There’s no storm damage in Florida and Iowa”
It is true that as Americans we unite during times of crisis, isn’t it? To some extent it is, however “Americans have short memories and tend to focus on their immediate surroundings”. People who do not live directly in the areas that were hit the hardest will probably feel sympathy and concern for a couple of days, but because they are not directly affected they may move on a little more quickly. There is nothing wrong with this and it is completely natural. When we cannot see the damage caused by a disaster everyday and in person it is harder for us to grasp the full affect of the situation. This is why Obama and Romney can and should continue to campaign hard in states like Florida and Iowa who were not hit hard by Sandy, but who will have a great impact on the election. Fortunately for the candidates the most severe damage appears to be in the states that do not play a huge role in the presidential race. Obama and Romney have already sent out their top campaigners to states outside of the storm’s path. Clinton is stopping by Minnesota and Colorado on Tuesday, Biden will visit Florida Wednesday and Wisconsin on Friday, and Ryan will be in Wisconsin on Tuesday.
How have Obama and Romney been doing in wake of this colossal natural disaster? So far it seems to me like both Obama and Romney are treading lightly and being extremely sensitive which is probably in both of their interests. Only time will tell if and how Sandy will impact this upcoming election!
– Amy Rowland