The Sandy surprise

Hurricane Sandy has upended campaigns in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and nationally, as House, Senate and presidential candidates ponder when to resume all-out efforts to court voters.

Rallies were canceled as the Eastern Seaboard began to pick up the pieces. The devastating storm, some 800 miles wide, has disrupted get-out-the-vote operations, including phone banks, door-knocking and direct mail.

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In Virginia’s competitive contest for retiring Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-Va.) seat, both former Gov. Tim Kaine (D) and ex-Sen. George Allen (R) canceled Monday and Tuesday events. Senate candidates in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Connecticut did likewise.

Mitt Romney will return to the campaign trail on Wednesday, holding events in the battleground state of Florida, while President Obama will travel to New Jersey to survey the destruction with Gov. Chris Christie (R) and, not coincidentally, look in charge and presidential.

Christie, who sharply criticized the president during his keynote address at the Republican convention in Tampa, called Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy “outstanding” on Tuesday.

Teams Romney and Obama have urged people to donate to the American Red Cross, and say they are not focused on the election at the moment. If you believe that, we have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.

In an email to supporters on Tuesday, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina stated, “Soon enough we’ll need to get back to work on the most important campaign of our lifetime.” The obvious truth is that all moves at this point in such a campaign are weighed carefully. One misstep could cost Obama or Romney the election, especially because the race is so close.

Does anyone suppose that they have forgotten Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) decision in 2008, when he suspended his campaign and called for a scheduled debate with Obama to be canceled amid the financial implosion? Whatever the move was intended to signal, it certainly did not make McCain look more presidential, and it backfired. His campaign never recovered.

How presidents and presidential candidates deal with disasters, natural or otherwise, is important to voters.

Former President George H.W. Bush was criticized for being slow to send resources to Florida in the summer of 1992 following Hurricane Andrew. He ended up winning Florida, but the fumble played into the hands of the Democrats’ strategy of portraying him as out of touch on domestic issues. Bill Clinton won 370 electoral votes to Bush’s 168 that year.

Sandy might have no tangible effect on the outcome of the presidential campaign. But it’s a good bet that the super-storm will be remembered as this election cycle’s October surprise.