Hurricane Sandy is the monster storm threatening millions of people living on the eastern seaboard, already shutting down many cities and the federal government in Washington, D.C. The storm has closed schools, disrupted transportation and could rip apart the region’s power grid, cause major flooding, and destroy homes and buildings. Already hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated from low ground.
Sandy is also the ultimate “X” factor that could change the outcome of the election. In a close race, neither campaign knows what the storm means to their campaign. It’s a true “X” factor. Unknown.
It’s unknown how many voters will not be able to get to polls, early or otherwise. On Monday morning it’s unknown which states will be impacted the most.
“This is the biggest thing I’ve ever covered in my entire career, and it’s certainly going cover a lot of real estate before it’s done,” said Jim Cantore from The Weather Channel.
There are many factors that make this storm’s potential even more deadly and disruptive – starting with the sheer size of the storm, some 700 miles wide. According to The Weather Channel, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has personnel and supplies spread as far west as the Ohio River Valley.
Now let’s put this storm in political terms and why it could change the outcome of the election.
Both campaigns have expressed concern for the people who will be impacted.
But a storm of this magnitude means that the news on television and newspapers will be reporting about Sandy instead of the election campaign. That means the race is, essentially, put on hold days before the final voting occurs. So a candidate is behind cannot use the last week to build or shift momentum. Along the seaboard, at the very minimum, the actual campaign season has just been blown away. It’s over.
Normally the final week of an election is the candidate’s last chance to convince undecided voters or even rally their own base in key states.
Four swing states that are critical to both candidates, Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire and North Carolina, will all be affected by the storm. That means that candidates will have to cancel any planned trips or events. What’s more: Even by Election Day there could be areas without electricity or fuel and that could depress turnout.
What little campaigning ahead will be in states that are not hit by the storm, Nevada, Colorado, Florida and perhaps parts of Ohio. (But candidates have to be careful about where and when. A split screen of any event paired with storm aftermath would not help a candidate.)
The most important politics for President Obama right now is to make certain that the federal government is doing its job. And well. Any mistake – or perceived incompetence – could be the deciding factor. (Think President George W. Bush and the Katrina storm.)
The President has already shifted from campaign mode to governing. He met with officials Sunday from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to get briefed on those preparations.
“At this stage, everybody is confident that the staging process, the prepositioning of resources, commodities, equipment that are going to be needed to respond to this storm are in place,” President Obama said. “But as Craig [Fugate] has emphasized, this hasn’t hit landfall yet, so we don’t yet know where it’s going to hit, where we’re going to see the biggest impacts. And that’s exactly why it’s so important for us to respond big and respond fast as local information starts coming in.”
Of course the politics will play out, one way or another, “x” factor or not. But for people living in the path of this storm the impacts are far more personal and dangerous. And that impact goes far beyond the Atlantic coastal areas.
“When these powerful storms move over land, they lose wind strength but continue to dump massive amounts of rain into streams, rivers and lakes — posing a serious threat of inland flooding. These floods account for more than 50 percent of hurricane-related deaths each year,” said the NOAA National Weather Service.
This X factor is ginormous.
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: email@example.com.