New Jersey Republican Chris Christie praises Obama during interviews on morning news shows.
WASHINGTON — Barack Obama drew praise from one of Republican Mitt Romney’s top backers Tuesday for the government’s response to the Atlantic superstorm as both candidates tried to navigate the politics of a natural disaster with the election one week away.
New Jersey Republican Chris Christie, the governor of one of the states hardest hit by Sandy, lauded Obama during interviews on morning news shows.
“I have to give the president great credit,” Christie, who delivered the keynote address at Romney’s nominating convention, said on the Fox News Channel. “He’s done, as far as I’m concerned, a great job for New Jersey.”
The furious storm left a trail of flooding, death and destruction along the East Coast and froze the presidential campaigns in place. With polls showing the race a dead heat nationally, political advisers for both Obama and Romney were struggling to assess how the massive storm might tilt the contest.
While federal agencies are taking a central role in relief and clean-up from the storm, one of Romney’s central messages in the campaign is a promise to shrink the government.
Romney has suggested he would give more responsibility for disaster relief to state governments or even private companies. In a June, 2011, debate during the Republican primaries, he was asked whether some of the duties of the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be dispersed.
“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,” Romney said. “And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”
Obama canceled campaign events Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in the battleground states, including Florida and Ohio, that are crucial to both candidates. His campaign organization used its email lists to appeal for donations to the Red Cross.
Romney and running-mate Paul Ryan announced Monday that they were canceling all campaign events out of respect to those threatened by the destructive storm. Still, they were making public appearances in Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin, turning their campaign stops into storm relief events.
In Kettering, Ohio, Romney held a previously scheduled event with the same celebrity line-up, including country music singer Randy Owen, while rebranding it as a charity relief event for victims of Sandy.
Standing before tables landed with diapers, canned goods, and bottled water, Romney jettisoned his standard stump speech — and any mention of Obama — to solicit help for those hurt by the storm.
“We have heavy hearts, as you know, with all the suffering going on in a major part of our country,” he said. “Your generosity this morning touches my heart.”
Still, as supporters waited for the candidate to arrive, his campaign played the biographical video touting Romney’s record that often precedes his appearances at campaign rallies. Romney, too, reminded voters of his leadership experience, recounting how he welcomed victims of Hurricane Katrina to Cape Cod as governor of Massachusetts.
“We’re looking for all the help we can get for all the families that need,” he said.
He repeatedly refused to answer questions about whether he would return Federal Emergency Management Agency authority to the states, his promise during the primary campaign.
Wednesday, Ryan is scheduled to be back on the campaign trail with rallies across his home state of Wisconsin.
Obama and Romney are deadlocked for support among voters nationally. An Oct. 24-28 survey by the Pew Research Center found Obama and the former governor of Massachusetts each supported by 47 percent. That’s a gain for the president from an Oct. 4-7 Pew poll that showed Romney ahead, 49 percent to 45 percent.
An ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll also had the race a dead heat at 49 percent for each candidate. In the survey, 66 percent said Obama’s policies would favor the middle class while 53 percent said Romney’s policies would favor the wealthy.
An NPR News survey Oct. 23-25 also found a virtual tie nationwide, with Romney ahead by one percentage point. In a smaller poll of 12 swing states — Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida — Obama led by four points. Both findings were within the survey’s margin of error of three points nationally and 4.5 points for the swing states.
The Pew poll of 1,495 likely voters released yesterday has an error margin of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. The ABC/Post Oct. 25-28 survey of 1,259 likely voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Gallup’s daily tracking poll of about 2,700 likely voters showed Romney ahead, 51 percent to 46 percent. The survey, taken Oct. 22-28, had a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.
The expected force of the superstorm, combined with its timing and the growing importance of early voting in battleground states, had the potential to affect the outcome like no other weather event in U.S. presidential election history.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Allan J. Lichtman, a professor of history at American University in Washington.
While New Jersey is a safely Democratic state in the presidential campaign, Christie’s praise may resonate with voters in states that swing between the two parties in national elections.
Chris Christie praises Obama
Christie said he’s spoken with Obama three times in the past 24 hours as the storm was roaring ashore.
“He’s been very attentive, and anything I’ve asked for, he’s gotten to me,” Christie said. “So I thank the president publicly for that.”
Aides to both candidates were still waiting to see the storm’s impact on the campaign.
“I don’t have a clue what this will do,” said Charlie Black, a Romney adviser. “Neither does anyone else.”
While some campaign surrogates, such as former President Bill Clinton, continue to stump for the president, Obama won’t be making a personal appeal for votes.
“This is the challenge of being the president and a candidate,” said David Axelrod, the campaign’s chief political strategist. “Being the president comes first. We as a campaign will make the adjustments as necessary and he’ll do what he needs to do as president.”
“Far too much credit” is placed on the impact of candidate rallies in the closing days of a campaign, Lichtman said. More important, he said, will be the storm’s effect on early balloting and turnout on Election Day.
While researchers have looked at the impact of rain on the 2000 Election Day in Florida — the state that determined that year’s winner — there has been nothing on the national scale of Sandy so close to an election, Lichtman said.
Bad weather tends to reduce turnout and historically that has helped Republicans, Lichtman said. With Democrats running ahead in early voting in many states, though, the storm and its aftermath “might affect the ability of Republicans to catch up,” he said. “You may have very strange effects going on here. It’s fascinating.”
Lerer reported from Davenport, Iowa. Contributors: Margaret Talev, Hans Nichols and Leslie Hoffecker in Washington and John McCormick in Chicago.