White House race growls to life in Sandy’s aftermathAgence France-Presse . Washington
The president, Barack Obama, planned to tour superstorm Sandy’s debris field Wednesday and Mitt Romney plotted a return to campaigning as the White House race stirred to life days ahead of the vote.
During an unprecedented 24-hour truce so close to a US presidential vote, the campaigns assessed the storm aftermath and how to best use the final week left in a race either man could still win.
The storm — which killed at least 43 people in the United States and Canada, battered the East Coast and flooded lower Manhattan — muffled campaign rhetoric and blurred political battle lines, for at least a day or so.
Obama was in presidential mode Tuesday, firing off orders to government emergency chiefs, telling storm victims that America found their plight ‘heartbreaking’ and affecting not to notice the looming November 6 poll.
But his trip to New Jersey Wednesday and meeting with governor Chris Christie — a Republican Romney backer who has poured praise on the president’s handling of the disaster — will take place in a highly political context.
Romney meanwhile concluded that in such a tight race, he could not afford another day watching Obama dominate the headlines, announcing plans for a three-event tour of tightening battleground Florida — which he must win.
Obama will still control the media narrative on Wednesday as he picks through wreckage and consoles storm victims alongside a popular Republican, as Romney plays the grubbier game of campaign politics in sunny Florida.
The no-nonsense Christie — a frequent Obama critic — has assumed a talismanic role similar to that of New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani following the September 11 attacks in 2001.
In one aside on Tuesday, which likely pleased the Obama camp, Christie snapped at a Fox News interviewer when asked if Romney would get a disaster photo-op.
‘If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don’t know me,’ said Christie, often mentioned as a future White House hopeful.
Though the principals were off stage and the political heat was turned down, the campaigns have continued to trade punches, with each side accusing the other of desperation as they seek to lock in key states on the electoral map.
Obama took full advantage of the tools of the presidency as he projected a sense of authority and organisation, marshalling the federal government emergency effort and empathising with millions in the storm’s path.
‘Do not figure out why we can’t do something. I want you to figure out how we do something,’ Obama said he told federal workers, after a visit to the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington.
‘I want you to cut through red tape, I want you to cut through bureaucracy, there is no excuse for inaction at this point.’
Obama’s response to the devastating storm, which roared ashore on Monday, could help his approval ratings, but both sides believe there are few undecided voters left, so it was unclear whether it would actually shift votes.
While the US media establishment is based on the East Coast and fixated on the storm, key battleground states like Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and even the east coast state of Virginia largely escaped Sandy’s wrath.
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