Senate races get upended by hurricane

Hurricane Sandy is roiling Senate races along the East Coast.

The storm is forcing event cancellations from Virginia up through Maine, altering campaigns' final pushes ahead of next week's election.

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The hurricane has disturbed get-out-the-vote operations including phone banks, door-knocking and direct mail in some states as volunteers are kept inside and the post office delays deliveries in some areas. It’s also forced candidates to cancel events up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and if the storm causes power losses, voters won’t see campaign ads.

Strategists in both parties said the storm was wreaking havoc on their campaigns’ plans, though few predicted the chaos would help one side over the other.

“[Get out the vote] efforts are just totally screwed up on the East Coast — I'm worried about all the stuff people were going to have dropped at doors,” said Republican strategist Tyler Harber, who’s involved in a handful of races on the East Coast. “And if the electricity cuts out and you lose power, you're in trouble with TV.”

Harber isn’t the only one concerned about the storm’s impact on his campaigns. A Democratic direct-mail strategist working on some East Coast races asked to speak on background because she didn’t “want to admit on record our mail may be getting screwed up.”

She said that she’d been preparing since early last week to make sure mail pieces were shipped earlier than planned to get them to the targeted states before the storm hits, and that mail delays could mean voters receive two or three pieces of mail in one day, lessening their potential impact by “stepping on the message.”

“The bigger issue is shipping the mail: You print it then you usually ship it with a national shipper, and many of those places have shut down,” she said. “These campaigns are down to the wire so you do whatever you have to: process the mail early to get it out of New York, the mid-Atlantic and move it somewhere else, you have to figure it out.”

The U.S. Postal Service is hoping for only sporadic delays in delivery in most of the competitive states like Virginia and Massachusetts, though it’s unclear how many local post offices will have to be closed.

“The Postal Service is prepared for a quick response before, during and after a hurricane; and has procedures in place to expedite recovery efforts, including making sure there is timely delivery of mailed ballots,” said USPS spokeswoman Sue Brennan. “Managers in all of the impacted areas will evaluate local conditions and make decisions based on whether our carriers can safely deliver the mail.”

In Virginia's competitive Senate race, both former Gov. Tim Kaine (D) and former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) canceled events on Monday and Tuesday and emailed supporters warning them to prepare for the storm. Virginia doesn’t have early voting, but the combination of the storm in the north and east of the state and an impending snowstorm in the conservative southwest of the state could hurt get-out-the-vote efforts.

Allen sent supporters a list of suggested supplies and emergency numbers, and suggested they donate to the Red Cross.

Kaine canceled all events after a Monday morning appearance, emailed supporters Sunday night to advise them to pull together emergency preparedness kits — and told them to take down their yard signs.

“Due to the potential for strong winds in this storm, the last thing we want is for yard signs to become projectiles,” Kaine said in an email.

In Pennsylvania, both Sen. Bob Casey and businessman Tom Smith (R) have canceled events on Monday. Casey had also canceled campaigning on Tuesday, while Smith’s campaign said they were likely to do so as well.

In Massachusetts and Connecticut, too, candidates from both sides canceled campaign events and instructed staffers to stay safe at home.

"Elizabeth has canceled all public campaign events. She has closed all our field offices for the day and urges everyone to take necessary precautions," said Alethea Harney, spokeswoman for Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

For some Senate candidates, like Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Casey and Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), this could be a time to shine they're all working in official capacity with state authorities on storm preparation.

Brown, who's in a tough contest against Warren, sent out an email to supporters urging them to stay safe and providing links to storm safety updates. He'll also be stopping by a number of Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency shelters across the state "to speak with officials and see how he can be helpful," campaign spokeswoman Alleigh Marre said.

Murphy, too, has canceled all scheduled campaign appearances and is meeting with state and local officials and emergency shelters, as well as with Gov. Dan Malloy and the Connecticut congressional delegation on securing federal disaster aid for the state, according to a campaign aide.

He's also turned his Twitter feed over to real-time storm safety updates, tweeting out not only links to emergency service and storm-tracking websites but also details on his meetings with local authorities.

Republican candidate for Senate in Connecticut Linda McMahon, as well as Brown, are also using their Twitter feeds to update followers on the status of the storm.

The storm could offer the candidates a unique opportunity to look senatorial in the face of disaster.

Natural disasters are one of the few circumstances that can put a candidate to the test before voters head to the polls, and the burden and advantage of the storm facing President Obama also faces some of these candidates: handle storm preparation and aftermath well, and you'll be lauded for your work; botch the cleanup and you could face backlash at the polls.

But in addition to storm preparation, some candidates still have final debates to focus on.

Brown, however, announced on Monday afternoon that he will not be participating in his fourth and final debate with Warren, citing safety concerns due to the storm.

"It is simply not appropriate to go forward with a political debate when a disaster strikes. The focus for all of us before, during and after the storm needs to be on emergency response and disaster relief, not campaigns and politics," Brown communications director Colin Reed said.

In Maine, each of the three Senate candidates said they had no plans to scrap campaign events, as the weather there is not nearly as severe as some other parts of the East coast.

They'll be meeting on Monday night for their second-to-last debate, but their final debate, originally planned for Tuesday, has been rescheduled for Friday.