Hurricane Sandy may force presidential campaign truce

As Hurricane Sandy rolls into the Northeast region, the huge storm might force the campaigns of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to roll back their own rhetoric.

The massive hurricane is expected to arrive Monday somewhere in New Jersey or possibly Delaware. However, the storm is so big and so strong it will likely cause damage and power outages in an area ranging from Virginia to New York, with New England and Ohio also affected.

The storm’s impact will last for days and force a variety of responses from public figures, ranging from reaction from the candidates to elected officials in the effected states.

The Obama and Romney campaigns already canceled some appearances on Monday in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy.

But it could be how the Obama and Romney teams react as the storm unfolds on Monday and Tuesday that dictates the tone of the next week of the presidential campaign.

President Obama has  plans to appear in Florida on Monday with President Bill Clinton before returning to Washington. Romney was scheduled to appear in Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin.

The Obama team also canceled a Colorado appearance on Tuesday.

One potential issue for the Romney campaign will be how long they can keep their candidate on the road if President Obama stops his campaign and asserts his public role as commander in chief in a potentially huge disaster zone.

On Sunday, President Obama met with FEMA and spoke with governors and mayors affected by Hurricane Sandy, and he also declared states of emergency for New York and Massachusetts.

A Romney decision to halt campaigning in sympathy with Obama would promote his current image as a nonpartisan, unifying candidate. But he also would lose valuable time in swing states a week before the election.

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Romney canceled two events over the weekend out of respect for situations in Virginia and New Hampshire. But he actively campaigned in Ohio on Sunday.

On Sunday, Senator John McCain said he expected the president to get a slight popularity bump as he appears in public during the Hurricane Sandy situation.

“I think that the president of the United States is the commander in chief,” McCain said on a CBS program. “The American people look to him, and I’m sure he will conduct himself and play his leadership role in a fine fashion. So I would imagine that might help him a little bit. But I’m not sure it will affect votes. People have been exposed to this very long campaign.”

The Obama camp will also need to make a decision if Romney keeps campaigning in swing states not affected by Hurricane Sandy.

There are already signs that both campaigns may pull back efforts if Hurricane Sandy is as dangerous as forecast.

The Romney and Obama campaigns have halted fundraising e-mails in the states that will likely be directly affected by Hurricane Sandy.

But the situation that unfolded in Libya may offer clues about the problems that both candidates face as they address the hurricane and its aftermath.

The president was sharply criticized by Republicans for making a campaign appearance as the Libya situation unfolded. And Romney was criticized for reacting too soon to the deaths in Libya, before details about the attacks were known.

In the long term, the uncertainty over the status of polling places in the states hit by Hurricane Sandy could be a bigger factor in the election.

Early voting in some states has been pushed back, and massive power outages could be factors a week from now, when Election Day is just hours away.

Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.

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