Obama visits New Jersey victims
on 31/10/2012 08:19:22
The president's actions, emphasising his incumbent's role for a third straight day, have forced Republican challenger Mitt Romney to walk a careful line and make tough choices.
The former Massachusetts governor must show respect for the superstorm's casualties along the eastern seaboard, but he can ill afford to waste a minute of campaign time with the contest virtually deadlocked in several key states and the election six days away.
After tamping down his partisan tone yesterday at an Ohio event that chiefly emphasised relief efforts, Mr Romney plans three full-blown campaign rallies today in Florida, the largest competitive state.
Sandy largely spared Florida so Mr Romney calculates he can campaign there without appearing callous.
Mr Obama's revised schedule is a political gamble too. Rather than use the campaign's final Wednesday to woo voters in the states that will decide the election, he will go before cameras with New Jersey's Republican governor, Chris Christie.
Mr Christie is one of Mr Romney's most prominent supporters, and a frequent Obama critic, but he praised the president's handling of the response to Sandy, a political twist Mr Obama's visit is sure to underscore.
Mr Obama cancelled his campaign appearances today but is staying in the public eye as commander of federal relief efforts. Yesterday, he visited the American Red Cross headquarters - a short walk from the White House - to commiserate with victims and encourage aid workers.
"This is a tough time for millions of people. But America is tougher," he said.
Mr Romney wavered in his strategy. First the campaign said he would skip a rally in Ohio yesterday out of sympathy for the storm victims, then he decided to do the event but recast it as a storm-relief effort, shorn of the usual campaign speech.
"It's part of the American spirit, the American way, to give to people in need," Mr Romney told supporters in Kettering, Ohio, before they lined up to hand him bags of canned food for storm victims.
Adding to his dilemma are the candidate's previous statements on the federal government's role in emergency management. He said he believes state and local governments should have primary responsibility for emergency clean-up rather than central government, and refused yesterday to answer repeated questions from reporters about what he would do with the Federal Emergency Management Agency if he wins the election.
Asked about federal aid to help recover and rebuild from Sandy, Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said: "A Romney-Ryan administration will always ensure that disaster funding is there for those in need. Period."
For Mr Obama, missing a few days of active campaigning for vital presidential duties may be a good trade, politically speaking.
Lingering anger about George Bush's performance when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005 provides a backdrop that could benefit Mr Obama if his administration does a solid job, analysts said.
For Mr Obama, the federal response to the disaster could make or break his bid for a second term. His reputation could suffer if the federal government's response is feeble or botched.