White House race growls to life in Sandy’s aftermath

White House race growls to life in Sandy’s aftermath

President Barack Obama planned to tour superstorm Sandy’s debris field Wednesday and Mitt Romney plotted a return to campaigning as the White House race stirred to life days ahead of the vote.

By (AFP)

Published: Wed 31 Oct 2012, 1:26 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 1:31 PM

During an unprecedented 24-hour truce so close to a US presidential vote, the campaigns assessed the storm aftermath and how to best use the final week left in a race either man could still win.

The storm — which killed at least 43 people in the United States and Canada, battered the East Coast and flooded lower Manhattan — muffled campaign rhetoric and blurred political battle lines, for at least a day or so.

Obama was in presidential mode Tuesday, firing off orders to government emergency chiefs, telling storm victims that America found their plight ‘heartbreaking’ and affecting not to notice the looming November 6 poll.

But his trip to New Jersey Wednesday and meeting with Governor Chris Christie — a Republican Romney backer who has poured praise on the president’s handling of the disaster — will take place in a highly political context.

Romney meanwhile concluded that in such a tight race, he could not afford another day watching Obama dominate the headlines, announcing plans for a three-event tour of tightening battleground Florida — which he must win.

Obama will still control the media narrative on Wednesday as he picks through wreckage and consoles storm victims alongside a popular Republican, as Romney plays the grubbier game of campaign politics in sunny Florida.

The no-nonsense Christie — a frequent Obama critic — has assumed a talismanic role similar to that of New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani following the September 11 attacks in 2001.

In one aside on Tuesday, which likely pleased the Obama camp, Christie snapped at a Fox News interviewer when asked if Romney would get a disaster photo-op.

‘If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don’t know me,’ said Christie, often mentioned as a future White House hopeful.

Though the principals were off stage and the political heat was turned down, the campaigns have continued to trade punches, with each side accusing the other of desperation as they seek to lock in key states on the electoral map.

Obama took full advantage of the tools of the presidency as he projected a sense of authority and organization, marshaling the federal government emergency effort and empathizing with millions in the storm’s path.

‘Do not figure out why we can’t do something. I want you to figure out how we do something,’ Obama said he told federal workers, after a visit to the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington.

‘I want you to cut through red tape, I want you to cut through bureaucracy, there is no excuse for inaction at this point.’

Obama’s response to the devastating storm, which roared ashore on Monday, could help his approval ratings, but both sides believe there are few undecided voters left, so it was unclear whether it would actually shift votes.

While the US media establishment is based on the East Coast and fixated on the storm, key battleground states like Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and even the east coast state of Virginia largely escaped Sandy’s wrath.

But Romney will still face a test of tone in Florida.

The Republican has already been accused of muscling in on tragedy for political gain over the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi last month.

Romney also faced new scrutiny Tuesday after a comment in a 2011 Republican primary debate that he would funnel money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency back to the states and the private sector.

He repeatedly ignored questions from reporters Tuesday over whether he would abolish FEMA, but his campaign said he currently has no plans to get rid of the disaster agency if elected.

The agency was vilified following the botched handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 by then-president George W. Bush but has since been overhauled by Obama and has run smoothly in subsequent emergencies.

With only five days of campaigning left before he asks voters for a second term, Obama will be expected to turn his focus back to politics on Thursday, though no announcements have yet been made by his campaign.

Electioneering did take place at a lower level on Tuesday.

Former president Bill Clinton was in Colorado and Minnesota stumping for Obama as part of a tour of key electoral territory, and early voting was continuing in states unaffected by the storm.

Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams said Clinton’s presence in Minnesota, which is seen as a safe Democratic state, was a sign Obama was playing ‘defence.’

The Obama campaign meanwhile mocked Romney’s decision to air new ads in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan as a sign of ‘weakness,’ saying he had concluded he had no path to victory through swing states.

‘The president is leading or tied in every battleground state across the country, and he leads early voting in every state across the country,’ said Obama campaign chief Jim Messina.

Romney leads by a few points in some national polls of the popular vote, but Obama is clinging to a slim advantage in the state-by-state race to 270 electoral votes needed to secure the White House.

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