Suspending a campaign in the face of tragedy, risky political strategy?
Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy suspended his congressional campaign for nearly a week after Hurricane Gustav slammed into his hometown of Baton Rouge, La. in September of 2008.
The Category 2 storm devastated the 6th Congressional District and killed 43 people throughout the state. Estimates later put the damage at $15 billion.
“Bill thought it was the right thing to do and I think people appreciated it,” said Brian McNabb, Cassidy’s district director.
“The last thing people wanted to hear was campaign rhetoric when they were trying to get a tree off the roof. The last thing they wanted was getting a phone call asking for votes when water was pouring in the house. Bill thought it would be a good idea to let people get their lives back,” McNabb said.
Cassidy’s patience paid off, and two months later he beat the Democratic incumbent Rep. Don Cazayoux by eight percentage points.
President Barack Obama is facing similar circumstances but on a larger scale and in a shorter time frame – with less than 10 days before Election Day, the largest hurricane on record in the Atlantic Ocean slammed the East Coast killing more than 70 people and causing billions of dollars and damages.
As Hurricane Sandy edged up the coast preparing to make landfall Monday, Obama initially planned to go ahead with a campaign event in Florida with former President Bill Clinton.
However, the president decided to temporarily suspend campaigning efforts at the last minute and returned to the White House to monitor the storm. Instead, Vice President Joe Biden stepped in for Obama and appeared at a campaign rally that afternoon with Clinton in the battleground state of Ohio.
While Obama toured the storms damage in New Jersey on Wednesday, Biden stepped up to the campaign plate again and electioneered in Florida.
Both Biden and Obama suspended all campaigning activities on Tuesday, the day after the storm struck.
Meanwhile, Republican challenger Mitt Romney kept to his schedule for a Monday afternoon event in Iowa, but cancelled campaign functions Sunday in Virginia, Monday in Ohio and Tuesday in New Hampshire. Romney’s running mate Rep. Paul Ryan also cancelled appearances Monday in Florida and Tuesday in Colorado.
Romney resumed his campaign on Wednesday in Florida while Obama returned to the campaign trail on Thursday attending events in Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado.
Meanwhile, Biden worked a campaign event in Iowa on Thursday and pre-taped a segment to deliver the “Top 10” on the David Letterman show later that evening.
“You’ve heard the president say that this is a time to focus on what was a devastating storm and the terrible aftermath of that storm,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Wednesday. “New Jersey was, by many measures, the hardest hit state … and it is entirely appropriate for the president to visit New Jersey and receive updates on the efforts there to recover and to view firsthand the damage inflicted by Sandy. This is not a time for politics.”
Human Events reached out to a Republican and Democratic political strategist to gauge reaction to the Obama campaign’s decision to step down for one day and found unusual agreement between the two sides.
“It is so close to Election Day, they cannot afford to be off the trail more than a day or two days, that’s just the reality of it,” the Republican strategist said. “Anything more than that and they lose traction, they lose momentum. I think it makes sense.”
The Democratic strategist said Obama and his team “gave proper deference to the storm and the victims while recognizing that they need to keep moving forward.”
“I honestly think the president and his team have handled it pretty well and fairly delicately,” the Democratic strategist said. “It’s very tricky to navigate, no doubt about it, but I think they did a good job of juggling the different responsibilities.”
The Democratic strategist believes Obama will benefit from his actions. The Republican agreed, but for different reasons.
“Every nanosecond he’s not forced to explain Obamacare, Libya or his miserable, floundering economy is win for the president,” the Republican strategist said. “And he can’t leave Joe Biden out there alone, because he’s nuts.”