04 November 2012

Obama, Romney and Sandy: an ‘American’ short story

And the lights all went out in Manhattan.  Not all, sure, but most of that island in the state of New York went dark.  And it was not just New York City.  And it was not just about power outages.  Hurricane Sandy hammered the Eastern coast of the USA in ways that even the oldest residents could not remember ever happening.  The damage is estimated to be over US $ 50 billion.  Close to one hundred people have died.   Over three million households are estimated to have been rendered without electricity, water and gas.  Recovery, as always, has been slow. 

So what does ‘Sandy’ mean for the US Presidential election, which is just days away?  The more extreme sections of those who support Republican Candidate Mitt Romney have predictably blamed Barack Obama for Sandy, almost conferring the President with divine powers.  In what was considered to be a ‘toss-up’ race, Sandy for some has been a ‘god-send’ to Obama. 
Obama, being the President, can put a hold on the campaign and ‘work’, can be ‘presidential’, and whatever he does gives him visibility and an edge over Romney, who cannot be seen ‘campaigning’ and does not have executive authority to do newsworthy things related to dealing with recovery.  He has been forced to disguise campaign meetings as ‘donation gatherings’ for hurricane victims. 

Barack Obama, eloquent, suave and clearly the more intelligent of the two candidates at least in terms of gaffe enumeration said it all when he was asked what he thought would be Sandy’s impact on the campaign: ‘I'm worried about the impact on families, and I'm worried about the impact on our first responders’.   Presidential finesse, yes, but clearly something that enhanced candidate-image, commentators have observed.   
He’s done the rounds.  He has visited affected areas.  He even stood with the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, a Republican who effectively snubbed Romney when asked whether his party’s candidate had a role to play.  Christie has a crisis to deal with and needs the support of the Federal Government right now, and it doesn’t matter whether this is because he is concerned about the state and its residents or his re-election chances or, even, his potential run for the presidency in 2016.  Romney can’t get it for him, but Obama can and has. 

Sandy has impacted the campaign in other ways.  Romney has openly objected to federal funds being used for disaster management.  Sandy has shown that states just cannot handle post-disaster situations without support from the Federal Government. 
For all this, it would still be presumptuous to claim that Sandy would deliver re-election to Obama.  Simply, Sandy arrived too late to swing the undecided vote in numbers that could count. 

The numbers that can count, especially those in what are considered the ‘Swing States’, i.e. those which are neither safely blue (Democrat) or red (Republican), indicate an Obama win, a narrow one but a win nevertheless. 
New York Times statistician Nate Silver who correctly predicted the outcome of the 2008 presidential election in 49 out of 50 states and accurately called the winner in all 35 senate races, has called this one for Obama.  He says that Obama has an 80.1% chance of winning (up by 7.8 percentage points since October 25).  Now this doesn’t mean Obama will secure a margin of 60.2 percentage points.  It simply means that it is highly unlikely that Romney will get the 270 electoral votes needed to become president.  ‘The Economist’, traditionally in line with Republican thinking, has not called this one in Obama’s favor, but has endorsed his candidature.  That, more than the New York Times endorsement, is significant, even though it doesn’t paint Obama as the kind of Wonder Boy that Obama’s backers portray him.  It is a signal to those who are still ‘on the fence’. 

Sandy has not made either candidate take on climate change, the one scandalous absence in the presidential debates. Sandy is unlikely to have tipped the scales in Obama’s favor.  The tipping seems to have happened before Sandy called the United States of America. 
I would go with Nate Silver and be surprised if Romney pulls this off.  I don’t think it makes a difference for Sri Lanka or the rest of the world, but an Obama win would be a relief to the poor and the minorities in the USA.  Not reason to erupt in wild cheers, sure, but some kind of consolation prize in times that are dismal for reasons other than bad weather. 



Ramzeen said...

The Israelis will prefer Romney who is partial to them while Obama tries to be fair. The non white vote will swing in Obama's favour for sure.