The normal practice the Monday before an election would be to dive deep into the polls, look for last minute trends, weak spots, and opportunities.
And that’s still true in much of the country. Sort of.
But along the Atlantic seaboard that whole idea has been blown away by the storm. From now on every poll that includes any state affected by Hurricane Sandy is out of date. There is no way to measure who has already voted, who is inclined to vote no matter the weather, the transportation challenges, or even destruction at home.
The last polls that mean anything show this race to be close. Republican nominee Mitt Romney is ahead in national polls by about a percent, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls. On the other hand, President Barack Obama’s job approval – a key metric – has been improving and stands at 49.1 percent, ahead of those who disapprove of his performance in office.
And the Electoral College map is just as confusing now. Again it all depends on who actually gets to the polls in the key battleground states.
North Carolina is one of those states where Hurricane Sandy could change the outcome. The polls now show Romney with a slight lead, less than four points. But what if turnout is dampened because of the storm? Republicans tend to have stronger voter representation on Election Day, while Democrats are better at organizing early voting. The Obama campaign has been particularly good at that.
The same patterns are potential game changers in Virginia, New Hampshire and even Ohio.
Does political organization trump advertising? That’s one clear distinction between the two presidential campaigns. Team Obama is putting massive resources into organization while Team Romney is spending its dollars on advertising and traditional get out the vote operations.
“Four years ago, Barack Obama built the largest grassroots organization in the history of American politics,” writes Molly Ball in The Atlantic. “After the election, he never stopped building, and the current operation, six years in the making, makes 2008 look like “amateur ball,” in the words of Obama’s national field director Jeremy Bird. Republicans insist they, too, have come a long way in the last four years. But despite the GOP’s spin to the contrary, there’s little reason to believe Mitt Romney commands anything comparable to Obama’s ground operation. And this time, Obama may actually need it.”
In Nevada where there are 26 Obama offices to Romney’s 12 field offices that organization is also boosted by that of Sen. Harry Reid. The New York Times reports that: “The Reid army may be using modern tools — volunteers can be spotted walking through neighborhoods with iPads linked to headquarters, feeding and updating information on potential voters — but the intent is the same as ever: finding people who like your candidate and making sure they vote.”
One part of that operation is to turn out the Latino vote. One recent poll shows Obama topping 70 percent support from Latino voters, compared to Romney’s 20 percent. The field operation is designed to make sure that constituency votes.
One issue that Hurricane Sandy brings up is the role of the federal government. Romney during one of the debates said that states should be the primary provider for emergency services. On Monday, Politico reported: “Gov. Romney believes that states should be in charge of emergency management in responding to storms and other natural disasters in their jurisdictions,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said in a statement. “As the first responders, states are in the best position to aid affected individuals and communities, and to direct resources and assistance to where they are needed most. This includes help from the federal government and FEMA.”
Depending on how bad the storm is … that’s the kind of statement that could come back to haunt any candidate.
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.