President Barack Obama drew praise from one of Republican Mitt Romney’s top backers for the government’s response to the Atlantic superstorm as both candidates tried to navigate the politics of a natural disaster with the election one week away.
New Jersey Republican Chris Christie, the governor of one of the states hardest hit by Sandy, lauded the president during interviews on morning news shows today. Obama will visit New Jersey tomorrow, the White House said in a statement.
“I have to give the president great credit,” Christie, who delivered the keynote address at Romney’s nominating convention, said on the Fox News Channel. “He’s done, as far as I’m concerned, a great job for New Jersey.”
The furious storm left a trail of flooding, death and destruction along the East Coast and froze the presidential campaigns in place. With polls showing the race a dead heat nationally, political advisers for both Obama and Romney were struggling to assess how the massive storm might tilt the contest.
While federal agencies are taking a central role in relief and clean-up from the storm, one of Romney’s central messages in the campaign is a promise to shrink the government.
Romney has suggested he would give more responsibility for disaster relief to state governments or even private companies. In a June 2011 debate during the Republican primaries, he was asked whether some of the duties of the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be dispersed.
“Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction,” Romney said. “And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”
Obama canceled campaign events yesterday, today and tomorrow in the battleground states, including Florida and Ohio, that are crucial to both candidates. His campaign organization used its e-mail lists to appeal for donations to the Red Cross and Obama went to the organization’s headquarters in Washington today.
“Sadly, we are getting more experience with these big impact storms along the East Coast,” Obama said. “We’re now moving into a recovery phase.”
Romney and running-mate Paul Ryan announced yesterday that they were canceling all campaign events out of respect to those threatened by the destructive storm. Still, they were making public appearances in Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin, turning their campaign stops into storm-relief events.
In Kettering, Ohio, Romney held a previously scheduled event with the same celebrity line-up, including country music singer Randy Owen, while rebranding it as a charity relief event for victims of Sandy.
Standing before tables laden with diapers, canned goods, and bottled water, Romney jettisoned his standard stump speech - - and any mention of Obama -- to solicit help for those hurt by the storm.
“We have heavy hearts, as you know, with all the suffering going on in a major part of our country,” he said. “Your generosity this morning touches my heart.”
As supporters waited for the candidate to arrive, his campaign played the biographical video touting Romney’s record that often precedes his appearances at campaign rallies. Romney, too, reminded voters of his leadership experience, recounting how he welcomed victims of Hurricane Katrina to Cape Cod as governor of Massachusetts.
“We’re looking for all the help we can get for all the families that need,” he said.
He repeatedly refused to answer questions about whether he would return FEMA authority to the states, his promise during the primary campaign.
Romney will fully reengage in the race tomorrow, with three events in Florida with Senator Marco Rubio and former governor Jeb Bush. He plans to return to Virginia the following day.
Obama and Romney are deadlocked for support among voters nationally. An Oct. 24-28 survey of likely voters by the Pew Research Center found Obama and the former governor of Massachusetts each supported by 47 percent. That’s a gain for the president from an Oct. 4-7 Pew poll that showed Romney ahead, 49 percent to 45 percent.
An ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll also had the race a dead heat at 49 percent for each candidate. In the survey, 66 percent said Obama’s policies would favor the middle class while 53 percent said Romney’s policies would favor the wealthy.
An NPR News survey Oct. 23-25 also found a virtual tie nationwide, with Romney ahead by one percentage point. In a smaller poll of 12 swing states -- Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, Obama led by four points. Both findings were within the survey’s margin of error of three points nationally and 4.5 points for the swing states.
The Pew poll of 1,495 likely voters released yesterday has an error margin of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. The ABC/Post Oct. 25-28 survey of 1,259 likely voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Gallup’s daily tracking poll of about 2,700 likely voters showed Romney ahead, 51 percent to 46 percent. The survey, taken Oct. 22-28, had a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.
While the candidates scuttled campaign plans, voters only had to switch on their televisions to see both campaigns engaged in a heated ad war. In Ohio, where one in eight jobs is connected to the auto industry, the candidates continued their battle over government rescue of General Motors Co. (GM:US) and Chrysler Group LLC.
The Obama campaign began broadcasting a new ad today, calling dishonest a Romney spot that says Chrysler plans to move Jeep production facilities to China. Chrysler has called the ad misleading, releasing a statement that “Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America.”
Romney’s 30-second spot shows cars being crushed as a narrator says Obama “sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.”
Chrysler, majority owned by Italian Fiat SpA (F), is retaining and expanding its Jeep production in North America, including in Toledo, as it separately weighs expanding into China, the world’s largest auto market.
The Romney campaign plans to advertise statewide in Pennsylvania, which aides say is now in play after being considered a safe victory for Obama.
The superstorm, combined with its timing and the growing importance of early voting in battleground states, had the potential to affect the outcome like no other weather event in U.S. presidential election history.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Allan J. Lichtman, a professor of history at American University in Washington.
While New Jersey is a safely Democratic state in the presidential campaign, Christie’s praise may resonate with voters in states that swing between the two parties in national elections.
Christie said he’s spoken with Obama three times in the past 24 hours as the storm was roaring ashore.
“He’s been very attentive, and anything I’ve asked for, he’s gotten to me,” Christie said. “So I thank the president publicly for that.”
Aides to both candidates were still waiting to see the storm’s impact on the campaign.
“I don’t have a clue what this will do,” said Charlie Black, a Romney adviser. “Neither does anyone else.”
While some campaign surrogates, such as former President Bill Clinton, continue to stump for the president, Obama won’t be making a personal appeal for votes.
“This is the challenge of being the president and a candidate,” said David Axelrod, the campaign’s chief political strategist. “Being the president comes first. We as a campaign will make the adjustments as necessary and he’ll do what he needs to do as president.”
While researchers have looked at the impact of rain on the 2000 Election Day in Florida -- the state that determined that year’s winner -- there has been nothing on the national scale of Sandy so close to an election, Lichtman said.
Bad weather tends to reduce turnout and historically that has helped Republicans, Lichtman said. With Democrats running ahead in early voting in many states, though, the storm and its aftermath “might affect the ability of Republicans to catch up,” he said. “You may have very strange effects going on here. It’s fascinating.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Lerer in Kettering, Ohio, at email@example.com; Julianna Goldman in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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