In the event that President Obama wins reelection on Tuesday, Republicans have already found their scapegoat: Hurricane Sandy.
Just days before Election Day, GOP pundits and prognosticators — and some within the Romney campaign — are roundly describing the devastating storm as the critical event that halted their candidate’s upswing in the polls, which give Obama a clear advantage in the electoral college math.
“The hurricane is what broke Romney’s momentum. I don’t think there’s any question about it,” said Haley Barbour, a former Mississippi governor, RNC chairman and respected political strategist, on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “What happened was the news media absolutely blacked out any coverage of the issues.”
Karl Rove made a similar argument to the Washington Post on Saturday.
“If you hadn’t had the storm, there would have been more of a chance for the [Mitt] Romney campaign to talk about the deficit, the debt, the economy,” said the Republican strategist who is spending millions to help Romney win. “There was a stutter in the campaign.” He described it as a “subtle disadvantage to Romney” on balance.
“Obama has temporarily been a bipartisan figure this week. He has been the comforter-in-chief and that helps,” Rove said. The storm, he told the Post, was “the October surprise. For once, the October surprise was a real surprise.”
Anonymous Romney campaign aides sounded the same note to CBS News.
“Campaign sources concede superstorm Sandy stalled Romney’s momentum. For eight straight days, polls showed him picking up support,” read an article Saturday afternoon. “[Romney’s] leads in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Iowa still hold in the internal polls, campaign sources say, but Romney’s movement flattened out or, as the campaign likes to say, ‘paused.’ Nevada is now off the table, and those neck-and-neck swing states are even tighter.”
The argument misstates the timing of the Romney surge. While the first presidential debate early October led to an unquestionable polling swing in Romney’s favor, scores of national surveys showed the race stabilizing by mid-October, well before the storm hit. At his polling peak, Romney pulled ahead in the popular vote but lacked any apparent advantage over Obama in the electoral college math.
Barbour fleshed out his case for why the Romney campaign is reeling from the hurricane.
“Any day that the news media is not talking about jobs and the economy, taxes and the economy, deficits and debt, Obamacare and energy, is a good day for Barack Obama,” he said. “You had a blackout on all of those issues that started about last Saturday and lasted until about yesterday — that is what really was good for Barack Obama. Now whether it was good enough remains to be seen. … You know, if this election had been held last Friday — the last Friday in October, Romney would have won. … Nothing was stopping Romney’s momentum — no matter what Obama did he couldn’t stop his momentum.”
Team Obama dismissed the Sandy-as-scapegoat argument as a face-saving move.
“I think Karl Rove might have said that because a few days ago he predicted a big Romney win,” said White House senior adviser David Plouffe, appearing Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “And my sense is Karl is going to be at a crossroads himself on Tuesday when he tries to explain to the people who wrote him hundreds of millions of dollars why they fell up short.”
(Photo credit: Brett Marty)
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.