Rhetoric Vs. Relief: How Sandy was Obama's October Surprise

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As Hurricane Sandy approached the US East Coast pundits wasted no time in speculating how the storm might affect this year's election. It turns out Hurricane Sandy may be the October surprise that breaks through partisan campaign rhetoric and helps secure Obama's reelection. I'm not surprised that Obama's response to leave the campaign trail and assume a position of leadership has won him praise from outside-the-beltway Republicans. When hurricane Rita hit my hometown of Beaumont just 3 weeks after Katrina it prompted the largest evacuation in US history. It also prompted our local Democratic officials to work in tandem with our Republican state officials to get everyone the help they needed. In September 2008 when we were hit again by Hurricane Ike we were better prepared, but like now, on the heels of a presidential election. For an entire week all the partisanship of the past year's campaign was put aside so neighbors could help neighbors. In either case no one thought FEMA did a perfect job but the logistical support they provided along with temporary housing, food, water and ice served as a great relief to those who in some cases – weren't even sure what day it was. It's ironic that this week in the Texas capitol House members are still debating claims from Ike and how best to manage cost and mitigate risk. It is also ironic that a week before Obama's reelection and at the height of one of the most expensive and negative campaign seasons another storm would so timely remind us of the true value of a responsive federal government and politicians who work together to get things done.

On Thursday New York City's billionaire Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed President Obama citing his handling of Sandy and climate change as factors. In a written statement titled, “A vote for a President Who Will Lead on Climate Change” the Mayor said, “The devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City and much of the Northeast – in lost lives, lost homes and lost business – brought the stakes of Tuesday’s presidential election into sharp relief.” Halfway through his luke warn endorsement he noted that, “The president has achieved some important victories on issues that will help define our future”. He also criticized Romney for changing his position on the issue of climate change after supporting cap & trade policies in Massachusetts.

Since the storm's passing presidential poll numbers have steadied. Some on the left were concerned the damage could prevent the President's voters from reaching the polls or give Romney the popular vote by suppressing votes in blue states. But, the rarely anecdotal Nate Silver of the New York Times 538 blog said the effects of the storm on the election would be “hard to predict”. After running some numbers he says he is less likely to believe the storm would have much effect on who wins the popular vote even if the turnout was affected by as much as 10% in the storm's path through blue states. However in terms of disrupting the voting process there is some evidence that Ike reduced voting in Galveston after the storm damaged many of the Island's homes beyond repair. Considering most New Endlander's are not used to evacuation or major storm damage, I would presume a fair amount of individual voters will still end up being shut out of the polls. What seems to be having a bigger impact is how each candidate's campaign is handling the unforeseen circumstance. Obama suspended his campaigning in Ohio to tend the the needs of citizens in harms way. Romney was criticized for orchestrating a relief photo-op in Ohio where he encouraged folks to donate canned goods even against the Red Cross' wishes. He is also being attacked in Ohio by local media for his false ad about Jeep manufacturing jobs being sent to China to which GM and Chrysler both chimed in.

As the dust settles and flood waters recede the President has been roundly applauded by Republicans outside of Washington. New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie said of Obama's response, “The president has been all over this and he deserves great credit”. While some endlessly partisan hacks have chided the president over his tour of New Jersey even Jeb Bush showed his support for what he described as a largely “symbolic” gesture from the “counselor-in-chief”, saying, “having the president on the ground makes all the sense in the world”. It should not come as much surprise that local Republican officials would shower praise on a president who not only believes they deserve help but would act swiftly to provide it. Under their own nominee's plan the federal government would shift the entire relief effort onto the states that are devastated. At least thats what he said when he was running in his primary as a Conservative. But right on cue Wednesday as the storm's victims gathered their bearings Romney released a statement saying, “As president, I will ensure FEMA has the funding it needs to fulfill its mission.” The truth is no one knows what a President Mitt Romney would do on any issue and its looking less like we will find out. When a perfect storm hits we need a president who's position isn't subject to change with the winds and President Obama has provided that contrast through strong, steady leadership.

Videos below the jump:

Mitt Romney says FEMA should be job of states and private sector:

My video from Hurricane Ike's devastation of the Southeast Texas coast:


About Author

Joe Deshotel

Joe was born and raised in Beaumont, Tx, but live music and politics brought him to Austin. He has worked in and around government and elections for over a decade including for a member of US Congress, the Texas Legislature, the Mayor of Austin. He currently serves as Communications Director for the Travis County Democratic Party. He is most interested in transportation, energy and technology issues. He also likes Texas Hold'em and commuting on his electric skateboard. Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.


  1. Minor edit
    It was Hurricane Rita that hit after Katrina.

    My parents evacuated to my home in Austin, and I was proud of how the communities pulled together to help those in need.


  3. Shaking hands does not a relief effort make.
     FEMA is just as bad now as it was years ago and we have had experience to learn from.  Who dropped the ball?

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