John Patrick Grace: Sandy may play role in today's election
Election 2012's October Surprise barreled in from the Atlantic Ocean last week and swept up the East Coast with deadly force. Dubbed Hurricane Sandy or, by some, Frankenstorm, the tempest may also have swept away Gov. Mitt Romney's last chances to replace Barack Obama as president.
What NBC weatherman Al Roker called "the storm of the century" scored a direct hit on the most densely populated area of our country, left more than 100 dead, up to $50 billion in damage and power outages that left 13 million Americans in the dark.
Hardest hit of all were the New Jersey coast and the New York metro area, especially "the forgotten borough" of Staten Island, where 19 died from storm-related causes.
Sandy gave Obama an occasion to take charge as commander in chief and marshal federal resources, notably FEMA, to mount rescue and relief operations in affected areas, including West Virginia's eastern highlands, where the monster storm turned into crippling snowfalls.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, keynoter at the Republican National Convention in August, heaped praise on Obama for showing up on the scene and "doing an incredible job." Obama was constantly on the phone with governors and mayors from storm-struck states, and personally met and consoled victims who'd lost their homes and in some cases loved ones.
The Christie embrace of Obama rendered rightwing radio pundit Rush Limbaugh apoplectic, sputtering so much disbelief he could hardly put his negative reaction into words. At Romney headquarters in Boston, unhappiness with Christie was manifest.
Obama's rapid response and personal presence and FEMA's initial deployments provided a sharp contrast to President George W. Bush's Air Force One flyover of the Gulf Coast in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. FEMA under Bush also drew massive criticism from local and state officials and the media for its slow and bungling relief efforts.
Subsequently, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano visited with Staten Islanders and assured victims that FEMA would stay on the scene right through rebuilding. The Red Cross, slow to get to the New York island-borough, finally arrived in force and set about making up for lost time by distributing medicine, food and clothes and working on shelter.
In part due to Obama's response to the storm and his visits with victims, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, formerly a Republican now a registered independent, published an endorsement of Obama for a second term as president.
Polls showed the American people gave Obama high marks for leadership, 67 per cent favorable, in his response to Sandy's devastation.
Moreover, prior to the storm, Obama had been trailing Romney by two points in national polls on the state of the presidential race. Post-storm polls made the race a dead-even tie for the popular vote.
More significantly, however, two battleground states where Romney had been leading -- Florida and Virginia -- moved to "leaning Obama." All Floridians and coastal Virginians have a healthy respect for hurricanes and appreciate a good relief effort when they see one.
When the story of the 2012 election is written, historians may well have to allocate a key role to a killer storm named Sandy.
Whatever your political preference, please vote today, if you have not already done so. Our democracy -- which Abraham Lincoln defined as "government of the people, by the people and for the people" -- depends upon it.
John Patrick Grace voted early and, as usual, split his ballot between Democrats and Republicans and this time one third-party candidate.