How Hurricane Sandy Is Helping Obama

Photo: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

You’re not hearing a lot of complaints about FEMA these days. As ABC News points out, the agency is “basking in unaccustomed glory” from the likes of New Jersey governor Chris Christie, New York senator Chuck Schumer, and others. One reason is money: FEMA, often cash-strapped in recent history, is flush with enough funds to cover its Sandy relief efforts, and has thus been able to keep mayors and governors happy by providing whatever aid they need to help with the recovery effort. FEMA seems to also have planned well and acted quickly. It distributed emergency supplies, including 400 generators, before the storm hit. In Atlantic City today, President Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced that 2,000 FEMA members were already on the ground.

The well received federal response to Sandy is obviously a good thing for President Obama. And he has done his part by closely following the presidential disaster playbook: Releasing photos of himself monitoring the storm in the Situation Room, touring disaster sites, personally pushing the electric companies to get power back as soon as possible, and sounding notes of compassion, optimism, and resolve.

His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. ABC reports that “78 percent rate Obama’s response to the hurricane positively (as excellent or good), while just 8 percent see it negatively. Romney, who naturally has had a far less prominent role in this issue, is rated positively for his response to the hurricane by 44 percent, negatively by 21 percent, with many more, 35 percent, expressing no opinion.” Even 63 percent of Republicans approve of Obama’s disaster leadership,

But FEMA’s success so far may be particularly important for Obama in a way that it wouldn’t have been for other presidents. One of the overarching themes of the presidential race has been the role of the federal government. Mitt Romney’s campaign has run largely on getting it out of our lives, while Obama has championed the good that federal government can do. (That was the forgotten point of his “you didn’t build that” speech.) In these waning days of the campaign, a big, splashy demonstration of efficient federal governance just might help Obama win that argument with whatever decision-impaired voters still remain in the American electorate. And having Chris Christie vouch for him doesn’t hurt one bit: Obama couldn’t have asked for a better closing image for his re-election campaign than a tarmac handshake with the rock star of the Republican party. In fact, Christie’s support has seemingly achieved the impossible: It left the Romney campaign unable or unwilling to utter a negative word about Obama’s leadership.