As Hurricane Sandy caused widespread destruction in the US East Coast, the hotly fought election race between President Barack Obama and rival candidate Mitt Romney has effectively ground to a halt.
President Obama cancelled Wednesday campaign events as he remained in Washington to focus on relief efforts. Meanwhile Mr Romney held a storm-relief event in Ohio, a critical state, and will return to the campaign trail on Wednesday, which some see as risky. Mr Romney faces the challenge of demonstrating leadership without electioneering in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
Political analysts in the capital were speculating about Sandy’s potential impacts on the election race. The storm has already thrown early voting already underway in Virginia and Florida, and could decrease voter turnout in areas with power cuts and debris-clogged roads.
Striking just a week from election day, the storm has added further complications to the presidential race. Even as the contesters assert that politics must take second place to disaster management, in reality politics influenced their every action. Both candidates now have to make delicate calculations to ensure they carried themselves in a way that might help them in the election race, without actually showing it.
This meant for President Obama, staying off the trail for an additional day and doing all he can to channel federal aid to the areas most affected by the storm. This could potentially benefit Obama, who would be framed for several days by the trappings of the Oval Office, while denying Mr Romney exposure, possibly interrupting the perceived momentum he has built in recent weeks.
The president met Red Cross Workers in Washington and held briefings with disaster relief managers, as well as governors and mayors of affected areas. Republican Governor of New Jersey state, Chris Christie, praised President Obama’s handling of the storm as “outstanding”. Analysts say that such an acknowledgement from a popular Republican governor represents useful publicity for Obama’s campaign.
There is awkwardness for Mr Romney who has favoured a dwindling role for the federal government. He refused to answer questions from reporters about a proposal he made earlier this year to funnel money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which now leads the relief efforts, to the state level and private sector. A campaign spokeswoman insisted that if Romney were to win, his administration “will always ensure that disaster funding is there for those in need.”
President Obama is still scheduled to hold rallies on Thursday in Nevada, Colorado and Ohio, depending on the aftermath of the storm. Mr Romney is scheduled to hold at least three rallies in the swing state of Florida. The Republican candidate went ahead with an appearance in Dayton, Ohio no Tuesday morning, although it was converted from a political rally to a storm-relief event.
Report: US election: Storm blows presidential race off course (BBC, 30 Oct 2012)
Report: Devastation sees election machines grind to halt (The Independent, 31 Oct 2012)
Implications for US-China ties
Simon Tay, Chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said that “Asians will be watching the US presidential race with interest and some concern.”
“Domestic issues like jobs have come to be linked with the idea that China has benefited unfairly. This has implications not only for China but US-Asia relations,” Prof Tay said.
A separate editorial from the Philippines pointed out that trying to find out the wider possible impacts on US-China relations is frustrating because neither President Obama nor Mr Romney, both blaming China for US economic woes, could really mean what they say.
The US president is aware of the limitations of the policy options on China. Mr Romney probably has an idea of how far he can go but does not care for the moment because he still needs to win the election.
Additionally, others say that if Mr Romney follows through on his promise to label China as a “currency manipulator” and levy countervailing duties on Chinese imports, he may increase the prices of popular and cheap consumer products that are now keeping cash poor US consumers afloat Moreover, Mr Romney’s unilateral action may damage the WTO architecture and usher in an era of trade and currency wars.
The more troubling aspects of a Romney victory on US-China relations lie beyond economics. Both Mr Romney and the Republicans have been quoted as saying they will pursue a more confrontational policy towards China in the region if Mr Romney wins the election. Mr Romney was in turn accused by China Daily of having a more “pugnacious” China policy compared to President Obama’s “strategic pivot”.
The editorial concluded that whatever the outcome of the Chinese leadership transition, it would be helpful if the victor of the US election has a more intelligent and nuanced approach to China. Confrontational polices may gain approval among the US right wing. But it gives the extreme left in the Chinese leadership more reason to be paranoid, increasing the danger of regional confrontation even as it does nothing to help the US economy.
Analysis: China and the US Elections (Boo Chanco, The Philippine Star, 31 Oct 2012)