Hurricane Sandy has stormed through the race but not blown it off course

Ewan Watt
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AFTER well-publicised but ineffectual interventions by both Donald Trump and celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, this year’s “October Surprise” looked poised to be as meaningless to the presidential race as the “revelation” four years ago that Barack Obama’s aunt was living in the US illegally. But with Hurricane Sandy slamming into the East Coast, Mother Nature certainly made her pitch to be October’s potential game-changer. Luckily she decided to give some warning.

Certainly, with early voting and in-person absentee voting suspended in North Carolina and Virginia respectively, Sandy undermined attempts by both campaigns, but especially Democrats, to get voters to cast their ballots as early as possible. Schedules and swing-state visits were cast aside, as both campaigns suspended some TV commercials and courted supporters for donations to the Red Cross rather than their campaigns. At least until Wednesday morning, both campaigns had declared a truce.

For optics at least, you might think the events earlier this week play right into the hands of President Obama. Mitt Romney’s stump speeches will still receive coverage but, with such a seismic event, the media has been preoccupied with covering President – rather than candidate – Obama. As they should. This, however, is far from being a win-win situation for Obama. His campaign will be aware that, with such a tight race and with Romney still enjoying a strong national lead, fulfilling the obligations of the office also reins in the President’s campaign visits to key swing states, especially Ohio.

The race has now largely taken on a “Mittmentum” versus “Math” narrative: that Romney is certainly the candidate in the ascendency, but his ability to cross the magic 270 electoral college vote threshold remains questionable. However, Republicans still have good reason to be optimistic. On Monday, Rasmussen showed Romney ahead for the first time in Ohio since May. Before Sandy hit, vice president Joe Biden was set to campaign in the Democratic state of Pennsylvania. The Obama campaign is now expending resources on TV ads in Michigan. Former President Bill Clinton was sent to Minnesota after a poll showed Romney within the margin of error. The state has the longest consecutive streak of voting Democratic, last backing a Republican during Richard Nixon’s 1972 landslide.

Romney might not be the favourite quite yet, but he’s certainly the only candidate on the offensive. Even in the polls that show Obama and Romney neck and neck, the Republicans have a considerable enthusiasm gap and, according to Gallup, have a surprising edge among early voters. But Friday also signals the last time before election day that new jobs numbers will be released. And they will be the strongest indication whether Obama will remain in the White House or is just keeping Romney’s seat warm.

Ewan Watt is a Washington, D.C.-based consultant. You can follow him on Twitter @ewancwatt