Given that much of the debate between Obama and Romney has been framed around the appropriate role of government, this suggests the storm could tilt the narrative slightly toward Obama. Romney’s remarks in a GOP debate in June that seemed to endorse the idea of privatizing FEMA could hurt him, just as George Bush’s “heck of a job, Brownie” remark did during Hurricane Katrina. And a Romney campaign statement since the storm hit suggesting that Romney was simply urging a primary role for the states in disaster response seems disingenuous. This is precisely how the current system works with states and localities taking the lead in disaster relief, calling on FEMA and other federal agencies to provide money and manpower as needed. There is even a sense that the unprecedented and costly extreme weather the U.S. has experienced in the last several years has been exacerbated by climate change, an issue that Romney has belittled, including in his speech accepting the GOP nomination.

More broadly, will the storm in any sense be seen as a metaphor for the economic and political storms that have afflicted the country in the last decade?  As he has taken great pains to point out, Obama did inherit two major wars, a declining middle class, the financial meltdown, the Great Recession, and the burst housing bubble, among other problems. It was precisely Obama’s actions in response to these emergencies — the economic stimulus, regulation of the financial sector, the auto bailout, ending the Iraq war—that have become key issues in the election. 

Of course, both campaigns have been at pains not to seem to be taking political advantage of the storm, issuing statements of concern about those affected, and suspending some campaigning. And only 1 in 5 or so Americans will be significantly affected by the storm, with most swing states held harmless, so its overall impact could be small.

But in an election likely to be razor close, even relatively small factors could be decisive. Hurricane Sandy is a reminder that Americans face common problems and that government has an important role in addressing many of them. Whether that reminder shines a harsher light on Obama or Romney will be for voters to decide.

Bledsoe is president of Bledsoe & Associates, a policy consultancy. He served as a staff member in the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, and the Clinton White House.