It’s obviously impossible to judge the physical and economic–must less the psychological and political–effect of an event like Sandy. But pundits have their jobs and their obsessions, and such a wild card hitting the table so close to the end of an intensely competitive cycle is bound to produce a major freakout among those who thought they knew it all, particularly if they live where they might themselves be without access to their usual information sources for a few days.
One frequently asked question about the impact of Sandy does have something of an answer, as Politico‘s Jonathan Allen notes this morning:
Most of the states in Sandy’s path don’t have early voting, except of the absentee-ballot variety. Maryland, a state Obama is expected to win easily, has closed its early-voting program on Monday. Virginia allows absentee voting in person ahead of Election Day, but only for residents who meet certain criteria. States that don’t let folks cast ballots in person before Election Day include several that are expected to be the most heavily affected by Sandy: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
A less tangible but probably more important question involves how people going to the polls will react to Sandy and its handling by the federal government, and not just in the area most affected. If handled relatively well, natural disasters can serve as a reminder that government exists to help people do things they can’t do on their own, and who knows? Maybe a few will have second thoughts about those dismissals of climate change one of the two major parties has largely embraced. And obviously a poor federal response wouldn’t help Barack Obama overcome claims he’s “in over his head.”
The one thing we’re hearing that I don’t take seriously as a potential political consequence of Sandy is reflected in this question from Allen: “Will Mitt Romney’s momentum be stopped?”
I don’t much believe there is any such thing as “momentum” in a close presidential contest, and even if it theoretically exists, it’s not clear Mitt Romney has it. So I hope no one spends much time looking for answers to such a double-loaded question that will soon be swept away by actual events.