Political Mann: Candidates, voters forced to navigate Sandy

Story highlights

  • Sandy struck the U.S. election this week, forcing candidates to suspend campaigning
  • But the Superstorm offered plenty of chances to generate politically helpful publicity
  • As Obama conferred with FEMA, Romney tried to dispel impression he might abolish it
  • When outcome is known, any talk of Obama, Romney is bound to mention Sandy as well

As millions of Americans began to cast ballots, the deadly storm that swamped the eastern United States this week struck the presidential election as well, forcing the candidates and voters to navigate around the nasty weather.

"The election will take care of itself. Right now, our number one priority is to make sure that we are saving lives," said President Barack Obama, who cancelled campaign appearances for emergency meetings and disaster scene visits that generated plenty of politically helpful publicity.

Republican Mitt Romney's aides announced he would suspend campaigning "out of sensitivity for the millions of Americans in the path of Hurricane Sandy." Even so, they quickly scheduled Romney for a charity storm-relief event in Ohio, the most important of the undecided "swing" states that could decide the election, and then resumed his regular appearances as well.

Sandy offered one quick and awkward contrast: while President Obama was conferring with experts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Romney was trying dispel the impression he left earlier in the campaign that if elected, he might abolish it.

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Sandy leaves election officials scrambling

Sandy also spawned a very sudden and public partnership between the president and one of his most prominent Republican critics. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, whose state was hardest hit by the storm, worked closely with Obama and other administration officials, led the president on a helicopter tour of affected areas and said he could not "thank the president enough for his personal concern and compassion."

Opinion polls conducted before the storm found that Romney and Obama were practically tied nationwide. Our latest CNN poll of polls, which combines a range of results, found Romney enjoyed the support of 48 percent of Americans, while Obama had 47 percent.

    Back on stump, Romney aims for right tone

    The poll numbers were also competitive in the swing states. Votes in America's Electoral College are allotted on the basis of state victories and that is the count that ultimately determines the winner.

    Each of the individual states also has its own rules and schedules for balloting. Nationwide, election day is Tuesday but many states offer the opportunity to vote early and millions of Americans do.

    New Jersey and New York, the two states that suffered the worst that Sandy washed ashore, traditionally vote Democratic in presidential elections and the outcome wasn't in question.

    Why Election Day won't be postponed

    But even in states that were spared the full brunt of the disaster, Sandy disrupted the early balloting, with power failures, travel trouble and the kind of cold, wet weather that discourages voter turnout.

    In the swing state of Virginia, where surveys found the candidates in practically a dead heat, many polling places had to close temporarily because of flooding in some areas and record snowfall in others.

    Virginia was working to ensure voters would get additional opportunities to cast their ballots and nationwide there was no suggestion that voting would be broadly disrupted on Tuesday, the traditional election day.

    But when the outcome is known and experts have a chance to examine and explain the numbers, any talk of Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is bound to mention Sandy as well.

    Obama takes in damage with Christie in New Jersey