When Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast of the U.S. this week it left a trail of devastation in its wake, with thousands of people losing power and massive damage done to coastal regions of New Jersey and New York.
But less clear is what effect the storm may have next week when the nation goes to the polls to decide the election.
The storm caused both President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney to cancel campaign events earlier in the week, and for at least a few days the ubiquitous fundraising emails were replaced with pleas for donations to disaster relief.
For the President, the downside of canceling campaign appearances will likely be tempered by the image of the nation's chief executive coordinating federal aid efforts.
Indeed, Obama's response to the disaster, including a tour of some of the worst hit parts of New Jersey on Wednesday, has drawn notable praise from that state's Republican Governor, Chris Christie - one of the Republican Party's sharpest tongues in criticizing Obama earlier in the year.
"He gave me his number at the White House and told me to call him if I needed anything," Christie said in a television interview. "So I thank the president publicly for that. He's done — as far as I'm concerned — a great job for New Jersey."
Having demonstrated that he is presidential in his response to the disaster, Obama will return to the campaign trail Thursday with stops in Nevada, Wisconsin and Ohio.
However, the storm likely depressed some of the early voting Obama and Democrats have been counting on to carry them to victory in swing states.
And if the recovery stretches in to next week, it seems likely that turnout in the worst-affected states will be low.
If that should happen, it doesn't seem likely that Obama's campaign will lose the electoral votes of New York or New Jersey - both reliably "blue" states at the presidential level - but it does raise the possibility that Obama might lose the popular vote nationwide while still winning the Electoral College for his re-election.
Romney, unencumbered by any official duties in response to the hurricane was more swift in his resumption of campaign events - adding a section to his rallies to allow supporters to donate funds and supplies for disaster relief.
But the hurricane has also prompted renewed scrutiny of Romney's remarks last year when he suggested a smaller federal role in disaster aid.
"Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction," Romney said during a Republican primary debate. "And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that's even better."
Romney repeatedly refused to answer questions from reporters accompanying his campaign about those remarks, instead issuing a written statement Wednesday in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"I believe that FEMA plays a key role in working with states and localities to prepare for and respond to natural disasters," Romney said.
He added, "As president, I will ensure FEMA has the funding it needs to fulfill its mission, while directing maximum resources to the first responders who work tirelessly to help those in need, because states and localities are in the best position to get aid to the individuals and communities affected by natural disasters."
It is unclear if those remarks will continue to haunt Romney in the final days of the election, especially as the critical swing states of Virginia, Ohio and Florida were spared the worst effects of the hurricane.
But to the extent that Romney is forced to respond to any topic other than the still ailing economy it risks distracting him from his final campaign message.
by RTT Staff Writer
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