Obama and the politics of emergency management

A top campaign advisor to President Obama said Sunday that Hurricane Sandy could harm efforts to turn out voters and potentially have an adverse effect on his bid for reelection.

The Obama campaign wants “unfettered access to the polls,” advisor David Axelrod told CNN, “because we believe that the more people come out, the better we’re going to do.”

But the 2008 Republican nominee said he thinks the storm could actually help Obama because it will showcase him in command of an emergency in the final days before the election.

The American people will look to the president as the commander in chief, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said, and are likely to see him conducting himself “in fine fashion.”


“That might help him a little bit,” McCain told CBS.

PHOTOS: Hurricane Sandy, en route to “Frankenstorm”

Republicans and Democrats both were unusually focused on the weather during political conversations Sunday, as the end-of-campaign surprise turns out to be not an attack or scandal but rather “Frankenstorm.”

Republican Mitt Romney canceled events in Virginia over the weekend, with aides saying he did not want to distract state and local officials from their preparations for the storm’s landfall Monday or Tuesday.

Obama is now canceling travels to northern Virginia on Monday and Colorado Springs on Tuesday so that he can be in Washington for landfall. Both areas are critical to the president’s strategy this final week of the campaign.

A key piece of the Obama plan is the operation the campaign has been building for two years to find sporadic voters, win them over to the president and turn them out at the polls during early voting and on election day.

Nowhere is this more critical than in Ohio, one of two spots where the president still plans to campaign Monday. The other state still on the schedule is Florida.

Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager for the president, declared Sunday that team leaders feel “pretty good about where we are on the ground there” in Ohio’s early voting.


“Our people are turning out, and they’re turning out in very high numbers,” she said on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos.

The campaign is busy “implementing the ground game we’ve invested so heavily in,” she said.

The storm could harm that effort in two ways. If the president has to cut his travel to the West and Midwest, he has fewer chances to fire up supporters and volunteers to turn out the pro-Obama vote.

Secondly, rain and high winds could keep Obama backers in the eastern battleground states away from the polls.


INTERACTIVE: Battleground states map

The bigger the turnout, the better it goes for the president, Axelrod said when CNN’s Candy Crowley asked him about the storm’s potential effect.

“And so, to the extent that it makes it harder, that’s a source of concern,” he said.

Above all, a failure to perform well on the storm front, or to be perceived as shirking his duty, could be more harmful than a few missed opportunities to campaign with suburban women.


“We all remember New Orleans,” as McCain told journalist Bob Schieffer on “Face the Nation.”

Follow Politics Now on Twitter and Facebook