What does Sandy mean for the election?
Pros: He gets to look presidential and in charge during a disaster, which should help his job ratings and give a visual distance between himself and his rival. If handled well, this rallying moment should help a President who usually appears at his best at a time of crisis and campaigning, rather than in the mud of governing. It reinforces his message that the federal government can be a force for good - as long as the disaster response appears well organised and controlled. Obama has been helped to that end by praise from the Republican Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, but it's early days in this disaster. He needs the aftermath to be symbolic of what the country can achieve - getting the job done efficiently with people pulling together. He is helped by the fact that the authorities were well prepared for the storm and took drastic action before it hit. He has powerful satellites - Bill Clinton, Joe Biden and Michelle Obama - to help out on the campaign trail. The areas hit are Democrat heartland rather than states he is scrapping over. The storm struck far enough out not to disrupt the election itself.
Cons: The scale of the tragedy is big with dozens dead. Obama is also dependent on the response being efficient and quick. If it drags on with days of transport delays and power cuts it could snowball into a negative narrative and reinforce voter perceptions of the US being on the wrong track. The Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, will be a powerful figure in how this story develops. Obama also faces the tricky tightrope of knowing when to pull back and resume campaign events. The storm has reduced time for early voting in some areas.
Pros: He could benefit from any stumbles in the response to the disaster which could feed into his argument that the US needs a fresh start and different approaches to governance. The storm gives him a chance to show concern at misfortune which could improve perceptions of him. Romney has an advantage of being able to concentrate on swing states while Obama is in Washington. The disruption to early voting could help in an election of narrow margins. Polls show Obama's support is higher among registered voters than likely voters. Turnout is key.
Cons: Every day the news focus is on the storm is an opportunity lost with so little time to go. Romney might be slightly in front in the RCP national poll average but he's behind in battleground state tallies and that's the scoreboard that counts. The storm inevitably heightens Obama's stature in relation to Romney - that's the value of incumbency - and makes the contender look like a sidelined pretender. Romney's move to continue campaign events could be seen as inappropriate. He is on record as wanting to end FEMA and transfer its duties to states. He dealt with that awkwardness by refusing to answer press questions about it.