Hurricane Sandy has targeted the Eastern Seaboard, disrupting the campaign, suspending early voting and threatening massive and extended power outages.
After causing misery in the Caribbean, the storm buffeted the crucial state of Florida before heading directly for the country’s midsection. The government shut down in Washington, D.C., the stock exchange did not open in New York City and transportation in New England was at a standstill.
Dubbed “Frankenstorm” because of its monstrous proportions, Sandy comes on the eve of the Halloween holiday. It could also throw a very large spanner into the works of the presidential election. With just eight days left before Tuesday, Nov. 6, a major weather event could very well wreak havoc with any and all predictions about the outcome of the vote.
By mid-morning pundits were already hoarse speculating on the effect the hurricane would have on the election.
Not surprisingly, there are two schools of thought. The storm will almost certainly benefit President Barack Obama, say some observers. Others are equally convinced that Sandy is a windfall for Mitt Romney.
Both candidates have had to put on the brakes. After cancelling several events in Virginia on Sunday, Romney headed for the all-important battleground state of Ohio, without which he is almost certain to lose the election. He will speak there Monday and will make an appearance in Iowa. His running mate, Paul Ryan will hold an event in Florida.
But then the pair will suspend their campaign "Out of sensitivity for the millions of Americans in the path of Hurricane Sandy,” according to Romney campaign communications director Gail Gitcho.
"Gov. Romney believes this is a time for the nation and its leaders to come together to focus on those Americans who are in harms way," said Gitcho in a statement issued by the campaign.
Obama has left the campaign trail altogether, cancelling events in Florida, Ohio and Colorado and heading back to Washington, D.C., to oversee preparations for dealing with Sandy and its aftereffects.
Those eager for a second Obama term insist that his prompt response will make him look presidential, and remind voters just who is in charge.
Others point to another major storm that dented the reputation of Obama’s predecessor: George W. Bush’s reputation took quite a beating after his administration was seen to be slow in responding to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Presidents are always faulted for not doing enough, the thinking goes, and those slammed by the storm will be looking for someone to blame.
Romney’s campaign will be doing its best to counteract the president’s central position in storm control.
Romney staffers are collecting supplies for storm victims in Virginia, and a Romney campaign spokesman told Fox News that one of the campaign buses will aid in disaster relief on the East Coast.
But the problems are also more concrete, and more immediate.
Several states, including Maryland and the District of Columbia, have suspended early voting. Even in states where voting continues, the weather may make it more challenging for voters, particularly the elderly, to get to the polls.
Early voting is traditionally thought to benefit the Democrats, and it is unclear how a truncation of early voting days may affect the race.
The Republican challenger has to be careful not to seem to be exploiting the storm for personal political gain. Any attempt to criticize the president prematurely will doubtless backfire.
The possibility of widespread power outages will very likely be causing major headaches for both campaigns. The massive media blitz planned for the final days will have little effect if voters in crucial states cannot see or hear the spots because their televisions and radios don’t work.
Representatives for the major power companies have predicted that wide swaths of the East Coast will lose electricity, possibly for several days.
Even those lucky enough to retain power will probably have limited patience for campaign ads as they struggle to find out how bad the damage is in their own area, or try to ascertain the whereabouts and safety of loved ones.
The Romney campaign has had bad luck with hurricanes: Isaac stole headlines and attention from the Republican National Convention in Tampa this August, and Sandy will almost certainly overshadow election events for the next few days.
So, the campaign could be frozen in place at this particularly delicate juncture. Polls are all over the map, showing Obama up in some states, Romney up in others, but the overall contest is a dead heat. Some observers such as journalist Tom Ashbrook are already looking into what would happen in the event of an Electoral College tie.