Hurricane Sandy is the ultimate wildcard in the final week of the election cycle. Will it help Romney or Obama? I don't know.
I think it will freeze the race in place a little bit. All eyes will be focused on weather news. Of course, Romney has saved a tremendous amount of his advertising budget for the last 10 days of the campaign, so presumably lots of eyes will see these campaign commercials. Except perhaps for the needed eyes of Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, where the electricity may be out.
Romney's last week of advertising is likely to be upbeat in nature. Campaigns beat up their opponents all through the election cycle and then go positive in the last week. This positive message will play well during a time of disaster. Of course, Obama is going to be able to do a better job of providing disaster relief than Bush was during Katrina, since the recipients Hurricane Sandy aid probably won't be shooting at those trying to help them.
Early voting was shut down Saturday and will be shut down for the next few days on the Eastern Seaboard. Coaxing people to go to the polls who might not have the discipline to go on Election Day was considered an important part of the Obama election strategy.
Obama is no doubt glad to have everyone's attention turned away from Libya, where the most recent reports are that troops were set ready, willing, and able to rescue our ambassador and other Americans but that he refused to allow it. Will we find out before Election Day why Gen. Carter Ham was relieved of duty? Was it because he was about to rescue our citizens without receiving authorization to do so? Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, this issue may be blown away until after the election.
There is some evidence that unpleasant events having absolutely nothing to do with the election can affect the outcome; voters tend to vote against the party in power when they are in a disgruntled mood. A Reuters new story suggests the outcome of the Ohio State-Illinois football game this weekend might well have an effect on voting behavior the following Tuesday. One study has found that a victory by a popular home team is worth 1.6 percentage points to the incumbent candidate. So if Ohio State loses, unhappy voters might take their frustrations out on Obama.
The same article cites a study that shows that voters in coastal New Jersey towns apparently took out their frustrations over a spate of shark attacks on Woodrow Wilson, who was running for re-election, with these findings based on voting patterns on inland towns versus those of the coastal ones.
Will voters take their frustrations about Hurricane Sandy out on Obama? My guess is that it will be too soon. If anything, the storm may help the president as there tends to be a "let's all pull together" attitude after a major disaster. It's only when hardships continue that people become frustrated and surly, and by that time the election will have come and gone.
More problematic for Obama may be getting voters to the polls. Republicans tend to be more reliable voters; Democrats require more cajoling. If voting requires additional hardship in Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Hampshipe and Maine's Second Congressional District it could be a real game changer.
It's sort of like watching a football game in a rainstorm. We all know the odds have been changed, but most of us don't know which team will benefit.