Frankenstorm threatens to blow election off course

This is commentary from political blogger and cartoonist Rob Tornoe.

Every election cycle, politicians and pundits seem prepared for an October surprise – a news event that has the ability to influence or even change the outcome of an election.

The term originated during the 1972 presidential election, when National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, speaking about negotiations to end the unpopular Vietnam War, announced, “We believe that peace is at hand.” While most experts agree that Republican incumbent Richard Nixon was already on his way to an easy reelection victory against Democrat George McGovern, many feel Kissinger’s “peace is at hand” comment just 12 days before the election sealed it for Nixon.

This year, we have a different kind of October surprise – a monster Frankenstorm that threatens to trample over the North East and wreak havoc among the area’s 50 million residents. At this point, no one really knows how much Hurricane Sandy will impact the election. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have canceled planned appearances in Virginia and New Hampshire due to the storm, and with harsh conditions threatening to persist for days, it’ll be interesting to see the President’s response, or if Mitt Romney rushes to try and politize it.

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Columnist Jan Ting brought up an interesting dilemma – what happens if power outages resulting from the Frankenstorm last beyond Election Day? It would certainly cause problems in Delaware, where all the voting machine are electronic. But we’re not just talking about Election Day – early voting is already underway, and the storm could impede voters’ ability to cast their ballot prior to the election.

“Don’t anticipate that just because the immediate storm has passed that we’re not going to have some potential problems in a lot of these communities going forward through the week,” Obama said on Saturday after visiting the federal government’s storm-response center. 

It brings up an interesting point. We live in the 21st century, right? So why can’t we vote online? Why isn’t voting more convenient? I love casting my vote in person as much as the next person, but with a perfect storm barreling across the most densely populated area of the country, it might be nice to have the option of voting from home.

Some Machiavellian pundits are already trying to figure out how the candidates could benefit from the exact track of the storm. “If Obama were directing the snowstorm it would be in the Shenandoah valley and south-west Virginia as they want as low a turnout as possible in those rural areas,” Virginia University’s Larry Sabato told Talking Points Memo. “If Romney were directing the snowstorm, it would go right down the corridor from Northern Virginia into Richmond, which is where Obama’s votes come from.”

It’s not all bad news. If we do have an extended power-outage, at least we’ll all be spared from the negative attack ads we continue to be barraged by. Since most of us have already made up out minds who we’re voting for, a bit of silence from the endless attacks and mud slinging would be nice.

Although, I fret to think about that poor, undecided voter, alone in a house without power and no access to the internet. Hopefully, he or she remembers back to the 2011 Republican primaries, when Mitt Romney called the debt that resulted from disaster relief “immoral” and indicated his desire to privatize FEMA. 

In all fairness to Mitt Romney, those comments came nearly a year and a half ago, so there’s no telling what he thinks about FEMA and disaster relief now. The only way we’ll truly know is how he responds to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy – or if it somehow threatens Ohio.


Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.


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