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Politics & Policy

Obama and Romney Tiptoe Around Sandy

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney helps gather donated goods as he attends a storm relief campaign event in Kettering, Ohio

Photograph by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney helps gather donated goods as he attends a storm relief campaign event in Kettering, Ohio

It’s a safe bet that in all the possible scenarios contemplated by the presidential campaigns, a killer hurricane striking a week before the Election Day didn’t factor. No matter. Hurricane Sandy has come and mostly gone, leaving in its wake—along with $20 billion worth of damage—the vexing question of how the candidates should proceed. They need to do all they can to win votes but can’t risk looking as though they’re politicizing a tragedy.

In this regard, Obama has the easier job because as commander in chief, he’s the one ultimately overseeing the government response and therefore can be seen responding to the crisis. So far there haven’t been any Katrina-style screw ups. Obama spent last night calling the governors of affected states and this morning got the kind of political payoff that is all he could have hoped for: Asked on Good Morning America to assess the president’s handing of the job, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, said: “I have to say the administration, the president himself, and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate have been outstanding with us so far. We have a great partnership with them, and I want to thank the president personally for his personal attention to this.”

Romney’s job is tougher. Because he doesn’t actually have a job aside from that of candidate, he can’t easily go off and be seen doing something civic-minded and productive. He also can’t barrel ahead with the usual campaign-rally attacks on a president who is busy responding to a tragic storm. With that in mind, Romney’s scheduled rally today in Kettering, Ohio, was hurriedly recast as a “storm relief event”—while including the same celebrities (Richard Petty, Randy Owen) who were set to endorse him at the political rally. According to the Romney campaign, they’ll “collect donations” for storm victims.

That’s safer than a rally, but might still look a little crass to some voters because politics will still be front-and-center. Need visual evidence of what I’m talking about? This picture from the event, tweeted by ABC’s Jonathan Karl, should do the trick. It shows two women, one with canned goods for the victims of the storm, the other proudly holding a t-shirt that says, “Obama: You’re Fired!”

—Joshua Green

Green is senior national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaGreen.

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