Ill winds whirl around two White House rivals

Wed, Oct 31, 2012, 00:00

Disruption of the presidential race by Hurricane Sandy has given way to renewed sniping as Obama faces into the recovery effort, writes LARA MARLOWEin Washington

THE ELECTION campaign truce enforced by Hurricane Sandy was shortlived. Mitt Romney had cancelled a rally in Wisconsin on Monday night to avoid split-screen images of him attacking Barack Obama as American homes were flooded – “out of sensitivity for the millions of Americans in the path of Hurricane Sandy” – the Romney campaign said.

But Mr Romney maintained an appearance focused on recovery efforts in Ohio yesterday. And he will hold three “victory rallies” in Florida today.

Mr Obama’s campaign has been suspended, but he visited the local Red Cross in Washington yesterday, warning Americans that “the storm is not over yet” and urging them to follow instructions from officials.

“It’s not clear that we have counted up all of the fatalities at this point,” he said of the 30 reported killed by the storm. “Obviously this is something that is heartbreaking for the entire nation.”

The president cancelled a campaign trip to Ohio today but will instead visit the worst-struck areas of New Jersey with Gov Chris Christie. Mr Christie, a Republican who has campaigned for Mitt Romney, yesterday praised Mr Obama’s response to the hurricane.

A Romney adviser said he did not have a clue how Hurricane Sandy would impact on next Tuesday’s election – this is a widespread assessment at this point. An average of seven polls published by the New York Times yesterday shows the two men tied at 47 per cent. Gallup suspended its daily tracking poll on Monday night because of Sandy, but its editor-in-chief, Frank Newport, said “the ultimate effect on the overall picture of polling between now and this weekend, including election polling, will depend on what happens as a result of the storm”.

Mr Obama appears to have most to win – or lose – in the aftermath of Sandy. If he is seen to lead recovery efforts efficiently and energetically, he will benefit. During his brief appearance at the Red Cross, Mr Obama said he has instructed federal agencies: “I want you to cut through red tape; I want you to cut through the bureaucracy. There is no excuse for inaction.”

The Obama campaign continues to hammer Mr Romney for a misleading television advertisement in Ohio, which gives the impression that Chrysler, which benefited from a federal bailout, is moving its Jeep production to China.

Mr Romney is desperately trying to dent Mr Obama’s lead in Ohio by discrediting the popular bailout there.

Chrysler has already condemned the Romney ad as “fantasies” and “extravagant”.

Its chief executive published a letter yesterday explaining that the group is actually adding more jobs in Ohio and will resume production of Jeeps in China for the local Chinese market only.

A quote by Mr Romney in a Republican debate last year has come back to haunt him in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Asked if disaster relief should be relegated to the states, he said,

“Absolutely. Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction.

“And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”