With Hurricane Gustav drawing attention that might otherwise have gone to the Republican National Convention, both candidates are have quickly shifted their organizations from campaign mode to a very public hurricane relief effort.
The front page of Obama’s campaign site shows shows a dramatic hurricane-eye view of the Gulf Coast with the words “The Nation Prepares for Gustav” and a prominent link to “How You Can Help.” McCain’s campaign Web site, too, highlights the storm, and in announcing that the Republican National Convention would scale back to the bare minimum, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said in a statement, “This is not a time for politics or celebration; it is a time for us to come together as Americans and assist the residents of the Gulf States.”
Both sides must be acutely aware that they can't be seen practicing politics as usual when disaster looms for states just barely recovering from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita almost exactly three years ago.
For the Republicans, the stakes are higher still, given the damage to the reputations of both the administration and the party over the debacle following those storms. One state-party staffer said both the national party and the McCain campaign have encouraged them to tone down events. Another botched disaster response could prove politically disastrous for McCain, while a successful one could help erase memories of Katrina, at least in some areas.
The efforts range from the local to the national. Florida's GOP delegation, for example, is turning a Monday morning breakfast into a prayer breakfast, contributing funds that would have gone to a Thursday party to the American Red Cross, and using its campaign offices throughout Florida to encourage and collect contributions to the Red Cross and a state disaster fund, spokeswoman Katie Gordon said.
Meantime, the link on Obama's campaign site provides links to the Red Cross and Save the Children, as well as to information for New Orleans and Mississippi residents. And the National Journal, citing a pool report, notes that Obama has offered to marshal the campaign's resources to help. "I think we can get tons of volunteers to travel down there if it becomes necessary," he said.
While no doubt motivated by genuine concern for Gulf Coast residents, the rush by both campaigns to aid victims of the high-profile storm could also pay political dividends -- as long as the efforts aren't seen as simply another campaign maneuver.