A week to go until Election Day and the country’s attention has now shifted to the lingering impact of what was once Hurricane Sandy. A few days ago TV and radio talk shows filled the air with every twist and turn in national and regional polls, passing along tiny details about which candidate seemed to be ahead or behind.
Now the candidates are almost forgotten. The national discourse is about what happened to an entire section of the country – the most populous, at that – and how every day people cope after the storm blew away normalcy.
In one way the storm is the ultimate election issue: The role of government. President Barack Obama, without saying so, is making the case that the federal government has a major role to play when things go awry. The president’s administration of an emergency will be observed by voters in real time. They’ll see both in the affected areas and around the country if the federal government is delivering. Voters will be judging against the failures of Katrina. What lessons have been learned? Is government effective?
An effective government is Obama’s best pitch right now. Especially when it’s measured against what Romney said he would do, reduce or eliminate the federal role in emergency management, passing its functions back to the states.
Last year during a Republican primary debate, when asked about federal disaster relief, Romney responded, “we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.”
Romney’s idea of effective government is at the state level.
But in Washington, at a White House news conference Monday, the president said the federal government is ready for Sandy. “But I think the public needs to prepare for the fact that it’s going to take a long time to clean up,” he said. “The good news is we will clean up and we’ll get through this.”
When he was asked about the election, he said not now. “I’m not worried at this point about the impact on the election. I’m worried about the impact on families, I’m worried about the impact on our first responders, I’m worried about the impact on our economy and transportation,” he said. “The election will take care of itself next week.”
Next week. Two chilling words for both campaigns because everything has been changed by the storm. It’s like election from past decades because we don’t know what is happening with voters. Before the storm the polls, essentially, showed a tie.
And now, who knows?
The Gallup poll, for example, shows Republican Mitt Romney with a growing lead over Obama. Its latest numbers show the challenger with 51 percent support compared to 46 percent for Obama.
That would translate into an easy win for Romney, even in the Electoral College (because a margin that wide would certainly tip some of the battleground states towards Romney).
But that information was collected before the storm. And Gallup will not be polling again until Wednesday so it will take a while to know what impact the storm has on voter perceptions.
On the other hand, Nate Silver of The New York Times (who uses a variety of techniques including polling, economic and other information) says this race is still Obama’s to lose. His forecast is that Obama has a better than fifty percent chance of winning the popular vote and a 72 percent chance of winning the Electoral College.
And the poll of polls, Real Clear Politics? It gives Romney a slight edge, less than a point, in the popular vote, and Obama a slight edge in the Electoral College.
Tally the numbers, slice them, dice them, and the result is the same. We don’t know.
And if the storm moved voters from one camp to another, well, we won’t know that until after Election Day.
Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org.