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Election Day postponement, Christie among post-Sandy questions

October 31, 2012 by Scott Bomboy


As the destruction from Hurricane Sandy becomes more apparent, so do some key questions about how the epic storm will alter the political landscape.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama will stay off the campaign trail and tour storm-ravaged New Jersey with its Republican governor, Chris Christie.

Meanwhile, questions abound about how the storm will affect voting next week and if some voting will be postponed.

Here is the latest on Hurricane Sandy and the election.

1. Obama appears with Romney’s top ally

Chris Christie is a longtime ally of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, but in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Christie has publicly praised Obama’s efforts to help his state.

And on Wednesday, the political foes will publicly tour New Jersey surveying the extensive storm damage, especially to the tourist-driven Jersey Shore area.

The president is still officially off the campaign trail as he inspects damage in the Garden State. But the appearance will make international headlines.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is an Independent, turned down a possible White House visit to New York City by President Obama.

Governor Christie, as people who follow the combative politician will tell you, marches to the beat of his own drummer. He doesn’t seem concerned about criticism within his own party. What hasn’t been discussed much is the move in the context of a potential challenge from Newark Mayor Cory Booker for Christie’s job in next year’s New Jersey gubernatorial election.

2. Don’t expect any elections to be delayed

As it is written in the Constitution, the "times, places and manner" of holding federal elections is up to each state, but an 1845 law lets Congress set the date for the presidential elections.

There are already several extensive analyses on the Internet about the prospect of pushing back Election Day, but the consensus is that it won’t happen.

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The whole idea opens up an equally epic can of legal worms, as attorneys would get involved in an endless set of court challenges. And another prospect would be a confrontation between Congress and the state governments about who really has the power to set election dates.

A more likely prospect is that states hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Virginia, will need to use more paper ballots and possibly alternative polling sites if power isn’t restored to those buildings.

3. Romney back on campaign trail, for now

Mitt Romney resumes his intense campaigning in Florida on Wednesday, but his remarks about President Obama will most likely be muted.

That might not be a disadvantage for Romney, who has been focused on promoting himself as a bipartisan candidate with a vision for the future.

But the linchpin of Romney’s campaign is how he can bring more jobs to America. How he can promote that concept without bashing President Obama remains to be seen.

Romney, however, can’t control his surrogates, such as well-funded super PACS that routinely criticize the president in television ads.

The ad blitz leaves the GOP with the awkward prospect of news coverage of the Obama-Christie tour followed by ads attacking President Obama.

Obama is expected to resume campaigning on Thursday.

4. The ghost of FEMA may haunt the GOP

As Hurricane Sandy was nearing New Jersey, there was already a sharp political debate about the role and funding of FEMA, the federal agency that would funnel financial aid to the states and local governments affected by the storm.

Campaign surrogates argued about whether it was President Barack Obama or Congress that wanted to cut FEMA’s budget as part of mandatory cuts in January in the sequestration process.

The concept of FEMA being discussed at all just a week before the general election isn’t an ideal one for the Republicans.

Then the ghost of Hurricane Katrina appeared just one day before Halloween in the form of “Brownie."

Michael Brown, the former FEMA director under President George Bush, criticized President Obama for his early handling of Hurricane Sandy on Sunday.

Brown was heavily criticized for his role in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath after he was called "Brownie" by President Bush and lauded for his job performance.

Brown, now a Denver radio-show host, said Obama should have met with FEMA on Monday, the day that Hurricane Sandy came on shore in New Jersey.

"It's premature [when] the brunt of the storm won't happen until later this afternoon," Brown said.

Brown also tied Obama’s responses to Hurricane Sandy and Libya together.

5. Will power outages play a campaign role?

Long-term power outages were forecast as a result of Hurricane Sandy, and as of Wednesday one key state appears to have escaped major, long-term outages.

Google has a composite map of all power outages in the region hit by Sandy and Virginia has relatively few power outages compared with other states: There were also relatively few power outages in the area surrounding Washington, D.C.

However, widespread outages were reported in New York and New Jersey, and there was still a massive power outage in the Cleveland area on Wednesday.

Aside from the logistics of running polling places, long-term outages could repress people from even trying to drive to a polling place. And there’s nothing like a power outage to make people cranky, in general, and to start pointing fingers at authorities.

As of early Wednesday, about 6 million electricity customers were without service. Providers are aggressively trying to bring back service online.

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

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