Hurricane Sandy, the Frankenstorm, is forecast to slam all of Pennsylvania from Monday through Wednesday. Effects like heavy wind and rain are expected across the state, including heavy snow in western Pa.
Hopefully for everyone’s sake, the doomsday predictions won’t come true. But if the worst happens, it will have political consequences as well as humanitarian ones.
Here’s why the storm is news bad for Democrats:
The City of Brotherly Love is straight in the path of the storm, and some predictions indicate that Philly could see as much as 8-10 inches of rain in the 48 hours it takes to storm to move through. Flooding and power outages could affect the region for days.
It goes without saying that Philadelphia is Democrats’ base in Pa., and statewide candidates are relying on strong turnout there to seal the deal.
Both parties boast a strong get-out-the-vote apparatus, but the reality is that Democrats are far more organized in Pennsylvania. Republicans compensate for it because their voters generally require less coaxing and are more likely to turn out any given election.
But because they have such an edge, Democrats are relying more on their field program. GOTV is a science for team Obama and they have calculated how many times they need to call, mail, email and knock on the doors of their supporters to boost turnout. A large natural disaster, which could knock out power and telephone service for large areas, could throw a wrench in all of that.
Plus, many down-ballot Dems in Pa. are relying on his field operation.
The Corbett Effect
For statewide and legislative candidates on the Dem side, tying their opponents to Gov. Tom Corbett has been political gold. But that dynamic could change in an instant, as it did after the catastrophic Pa. floods of 2011. Voters overwhelmingly agreed Corbett handled that disaster well, and he earned an immediate and significant bump in the polls – including a sharp spike in northeast Pa., the area most affected by the flooding.
Last-minute campaign messaging is already in production or on its way out the door. Any campaign ads or literature that use Corbett as a bogeyman, should 2011 repeat itself, will not be nearly as effective and could even backfire.
Here’s why the storm is bad news for Republicans:
Managing a natural disaster is one of the most visible roles of the federal government and the President. Just like Corbett, President Obama could see a bump in Pa. if the perception is that he’s doing a good job managing the storm and its effects.
If the worst happens, don’t be surprised to see the President on the ground in Pa. for a post-disaster press conference and photo op.
Flip on any cable news station, and you’ll see how quickly coverage can change. Where for the past two weeks the cameras have been on the candidates 24/7, now the news is split between the campaign and Sandy. In the event of a disaster the campaign will get far less airtime.
Negative ads also run a higher risk of seeming tone deaf.
That means it will be harder for any candidate looking to close the gap in the final week. In Pa., Mitt Romney, Tom Smith and Dave Freed are all playing catch up with their Democratic opponents. They’ll have less news coverage and less earned media if the Pa. press switches focus to a disaster.
Going along with the idea that Republicans are running from behind in Pa., it goes without saying that if there are widespread power outages that television ads and spending will be nullified.
Conversely, campaigns able to afford ads on local news channels will see more bang for their buck as larger segments of the population tune in.
When you hear about people being without power for a week, usually they’re talking about those who live in the “T” in central and northern Pa. Those voters trend sharply Republican. And though the population is less concentrated there, the possibility exists for a widespread power outage.