Updated 6:03 p.m. | Hurricane Sandy looks to pose a serious threat to life and property in the eastern United States, but the storm's timing means it is also likely to have an effect on the last week of the 2012 campaigns.
Prolonged power outages could cause some changes in the way that people cast their ballots come Election Day.
"No matter what happens, we will proceed with the election. If polling places need to be moved or consolidated there are legal ways to do that and we will be in constant touch with local election officials to coordinate that," Av Harris, a spokesman for the Connecticut Secretary of the State, said in an email.
Harris said that in Connecticut, the office has good coordination with the local power company.
"Worst case scenario if there is no power and power cannot be restored, the optical scan machines can run on battery power or else under a truly worst case scenario where the battery power for the optical scanners was depleted, we could have voters fill out paper ballots, drop them in the secure boxes, and election officials can count them all by hand," Harris said. "Not an ideal situation by far, but we can do it if we need to."
Sandy is still days away from landfall, but the storm is already having direct effects on the presidential race.
The Obama campaign has canceled a planned appearance by Vice President Joseph Biden in Virginia Beach on Saturday. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is scratching a Sunday appearance at the Farm Bureau Live amphitheater in Virginia Beach, Va. But the Associated Press is reporting that a Romney event scheduled for Sunday in Prince William County is still on. President Barack Obama is scheduled to appear at a campaign event Monday with President Bill Clinton in Prince William County, Va.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) are among those who have already declared states of emergency as Sandy approaches.
"Due to the track of this storm, and the fact that it will be a hurricane transitioning into a more nor'easter like system, we could see severe weather lasting for 48 hours or more in the state. In that scenario, saturated soil coupled with high winds could lead to major tree damage and extensive power outages," McDonnell said. "Now is the time for all Virginians to prepare for those possible power outages and disruptions to public services."
Virginia is the closest presidential battleground state likely to be affected by Hurricane Sandy's landfall, but the storm appears poised to wreak havoc along the eastern seaboard north into New England. New Hampshire is another presidential battleground state, and there are several Northeastern states with close House and Senate races that will face storm impact.
Utility companies up and down the East Coast have announced they are bringing in extra crews from out of the area to prepare for what they expect may be a lengthy effort to restore power to customers after the storm rips through with tropical-storm-force winds. Some of the power companies, including Connecticut Light & Power, have faced ridicule from lawmakers for their past efforts to get power back.
"We’re closely monitoring weather forecasts and preparing for high winds and heavy rain that can devastate the electric system and cause power outages,” said Bill Quinlan, a senior vice president with CL & P. "The past year has been all about improving storm response, and we stand ready to respond as quickly and safely as possible. While we hope for the best, we all need to prepare for the worst.”
The National Weather Service guidance is warning of a storm with the potential for a historic impact.
"The deterministic guidance ... show pressure solutions well beyond what has ever been observed near the New Jersey/New York coast (even exceeding the 1938 Long Island Express hurricane) early in the medium range period," the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center said today. That hurricane is a reminder of the history that the northeastern United States has with hurricanes.
It would seem to be difficult, if not impossible, to have active Congressional campaigns, even in states with Tossup Senate races such as Connecticut and Massachusetts, during massive power outages. Nor, of course, would people without electricity see all the campaign ads being run by campaigns, political action committees and other outside groups.