I have an election prediction.
No, not that one. This one: No matter what happens Tuesday, somebody will blame the outcome on the storm.
Maybe they’ll be right. Maybe they’ll be wrong. Hardly matters, does it? Consider these two scenarios:
* Let’s say Obama wins. Surely someone on the losing side will grouse that the storm helped Obama, something along these lines:
Romney had momentum going into the past week. He was pulling even in some polls in Ohio, and close enough in some Democratic strongholds such as Pennsylvania and Minnesota that he was making a play that could have broken through Obama’s Electoral College firewall. Then the storm hit. Suddenly, the campaign was no longer the big news in the land, and there was President Obama, looking all commander-in-chiefish, overseeing emergency preparations. How can a challenger compete in a situation like that? The storm made Obama look cool and confident again, and made people forget the reasons they had started to like Romney after the debates.
* Now let’s say Romney wins. One can easily imagine an Obama partisan complaining:
Forget those national polls; we were leading in the key states we needed to win. OK, we weren’t at 50 percent, but we were leading. We were going to win, at least in the Electoral College, and that’s the only thing that counts. Then the storm hit. No way Obama could stay out on the campaign trail then. He had to go back to Washington and deal with the storm, even if it was just for show. Meanwhile, Romney was free to keep campaigning wherever he could. Heck, it even forced him to spend MORE time in Ohio than he had planned. If Obama could have spent the last week campaigning in those key states, he’d have pulled ‘em out.
Like I said, doesn’t matter if either complaint is wrong; it’ll be an easy one for at least some people on the losing side to make.
This won’t be just Monday Morning Quarterbacking (or, in the case of an election, Wednesday Morning Quarterbacking. ) This also has implications for 2016 and beyond — because it means somebody might learn the wrong lessons from defeat. Instead of absorbing a lesson along the lines of “Obama lost because he was too liberal” or “Romney lost because he was too conservative” (or pick some other reason, there are lots out there for both sides), there’ll be a school of thought that says “(My guy) lost because of that #$%#@ storm.”
One lesson both parties will surely learn, and apply in future elections, is the importance of early voting. We don’t know yet whether the aftermath of the storm will depress turn-out anywhere on Tuesday. Regardless, we’ve seen both parties try to increase early voting in the past two election cycles, and this storm will surely spur them to redouble their efforts in the future as “Remember Sandy!” becomes the “Remember the Alamo!” of future campaigns: “Vote now while you still can! You never know what will happen between now and Election Day!”
If, for some reason, turn-out in key states is depressed on Tuesday, and one of the keys to victory is deemed to be which side had done the best job of winning “the early vote” in those states, well, that will just seal the deal.
We speculated back in late spring about potential “black swans” – unforeseen events that could re-shape the election. The storm could be one of them.
For some historical context, see below:
Well, I can’t really think of any. I certainly can’t remember an election where an outside event intervened in this kind of way at this late a date.
* Virginia did have a governor’s race going on in 2001, when the September 11 terrorist attacks took place. Both candidates promptly ceased campaigning for a time. But that was September, not a week out. At the time, Democrat Mark Warner was leading Republican Mark Earley. Some wondered whether the terrorist attacks would change the dynamics in any way, perhaps helping Earley on the grounds that a) Republicans are often perceived as being stronger on security issues and b) Earley was a former state attorney general, so he had some law enforcement credentials. As things turned out, of course, when the race resumed, it carried on pretty much as before, with Warner eventually winning.
* There was also the infamous Election Day flood of 1985 that hit Roanoke and much of Western Virginia. The flood actually started the day before the election, but by then the campaign was basically over. It did have an impact on turn-out, but analysts agree it didn’t change the outcome statewide in that year’s governor’s race (Democrat Jerry Baliles defeated Republican Wyatt Durrette) — although it did help tip the balance in one House of Delegates race in the Shenandoah Valley. Democrat Paul Cline’s base in Harrisonburg was mostly high and dry; Republican Phoebe Orebaugh’s base in Broadway was, quite literally, under water. Cline won a narrow victory. Two years later, with normal weather, Orebaugh won a rematch.
– Dwayne Yancey