Steffen Schmidt, IAFC Blogger
Steffen W. Schmidt, University Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Iowa State University, WNYC blogger, and chief Political correspondent of Insider Iowa.
I have written about the “October Surprise” here before. That’s the unexpected event that happens just before the November election and shifts the entire campaign and the final outcome.
The movie “Wag the Dog,” which I watched again on my iPad as I was flying back to Iowa from New Hampshire, is the classic. In it, a spin-doctor (Robert de Niro) and a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) fabricate a war in order to cover-up a presidential sex scandal that threatens the re-election chances of the incumbent. The fake war, made up brutality against a young Albanian girl and her kitten, and the death of a brave U.S. soldier (Woody Harrelson) rally the country around the beleaguered executive-in-chief.
The expression “Wag the Dog” is when something of lesser importance takes on the role of something of greater importance.
The October surprise is now hitting the East Coast of the United States!
Hurricane Sandy changes EVERYTHING about the 2012 presidential race.
First, it will derail all of the well-laid plans for the final nine days of campaigning. Many of the crucial states such as Virginia and New Hampshire will be isolated just as the final stretch begins.
Second, disadvantage Obama. The president is “grounded” because he cannot leave the White House emergency command center from which he must coordinate disaster response. That cuts into the last hard push to get voters excited and to the polling places.
Third, advantage Obama. This gives the president a chance to, well, be the president! You don’t change horses in the middle of the stream, in the middle of a war, and perhaps also not in the middle of the disaster caused by the largest storm EVER recorded in the history of the United States.
Fourth, I watched the hype misters at Fox trying to push the Benghazi, Libya “scandal” being whipped out by Congressman Issa and other Republicans as they hold hearings into the supposed failures of the Obama administration in providing security to the U.S. consulate. They looked uncomfortable trying to pump up the blood pressure on this incident at a time when “stormaggedon” was raging on all the other cable channels! I think Benghazi is history as a political issue and that is very good for the Obama team.
Fifth, IF things go terribly wrong during and after the storm — in other words if it’s Katrina II, and FEMA screws up again, Obama is toast. It will all be blamed on the incompetence of the president.
Sixth, Sandy has injected an atmosphere of total uncertainty into the 2012 contests, including the polling. Polls require a steady state and their accuracy could be devastated in this moment of panic, fear and confusion.
Seventh, there is great alarm about voter turnout. Infrastructure, public transportation, millions of people evacuated and perhaps not even physically near their polling places could totally shake up the turnout environment.
Eighth, gas and heating oil prices will spike because there will be a complete supply chain disruption. There are refineries in New Jersey that are crucial.
Ninth, the New York Stock Market will close completely for two days with no trading by Wall Street. What will that do to stock numbers? Will the markets go up or down when Wall Street resumes business? How will that play politically?
Tenth, massive power outages could very well disrupt the voting machines which need electricity to use and to transmit results to central compiling equipment. That would be devastating because we have NO provisions for other forms of voting such as pencil or pen marked paper ballots.
What will happen to the results of the 2012 election if huge numbers of voters are not able to vote or the votes cannot be compiled?
Will there be prolonged recounting or an effort to extend voting past November 6?
Could we face a 2000 election scenario (Remember Bush vs. Gore?) in which we won’t know the results for weeks or months?
Have I made my case that we finally know the 2012 October Surprise? It’s called Sandy.