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HindustanTimes Mon,22 Dec 2014

World

Obama storm response 'wonderful': top Romney ally
AFP
Washington, October 30, 2012
First Published: 19:14 IST(30/10/2012)
Last Updated: 19:18 IST(30/10/2012)

US President Barack Obama won glowing praise for his "wonderful" handling of superstorm Sandy on Tuesday from a fierce foe who backs Mitt Romney, as political reverberations of the storm began to be felt.

Obama put campaigning on hold a week before his close election clash with Republican nominee Romney to manage the federal government's response to Sandy, which swamped large areas of the US East Coast.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a blunt spoken critic of the president and a key Romney ally, early Tuesday produced a glowing character reference for Obama, which is already shaping endgame election news coverage.

"The President's been great... I spoke to him three times yesterday, he called me for the last time at midnight last night, he asked me what I needed," Christie told MSNBC.

Christie, a brash political brawler known for cutting take-downs of opponents including Obama, said that he asked the president to cut through bureaucratic "mumbo jumbo" and help New Jersey, and he "got on it."

"The president has been all over this, he deserves great credit ... He gave me his number at the White House, told me to call if I needed anything, and he absolutely means it.

"It's been very good working with the president, and his administration has been coordinating with us great -- it's been wonderful."

The praise from Christie, who is mentioned as a possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate should Romney lose, represented the kind of publicity a campaign, for all its hundreds of millions of dollars, cannot buy.

Sandy, which dominated news coverage and drowned out the normal frenzy of the last week of an election campaign, amounted to an "October Surprise" -- the kind of unpredictable event that can reshape late stages of elections.

Its impact on voting next week was unclear, but the storm allowed Obama to leverage the power of incumbency by marshaling the full force of the US federal government to help those in need.

Romney meanwhile will likely struggle to get news coverage, and he had to turn scheduled political events by the candidate and his wife Ann in Wisconsin and Ohio into storm relief efforts to collect donations for storm victims.

Obama had been due to travel to Colorado and Wisconsin on Tuesday, but wiped out his campaign schedule and it is unclear when he will resume.

The massive relief operation that is unfolding to help Sandy victims may also prove uncomfortable for Romney.

The New York Times and Washington Post were already highlighting on Tuesday how Romney had suggested in a Republican candidates debate last year that a big government agency was not the best way to handle disaster relief.

"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," he said.

Romney's campaign has since said that he would not abolish the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) which is handling the central government's coordination of the storm effort with states.

The New York Times, which has backed Obama, called Romney's notion "absurd" and asked "does Mr Romney really believe that financially strapped states would do a better job than a properly functioning federal agency?"

FEMA was vilified in the United States following the botched handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 by then president George W. Bush, but the agency has since been overhauled by Obama and has run smoothly in subsequent emergencies.

As New York, New Jersey and other US states woke up to massive destruction, it was unclear when full bore campaigning would resume, exactly a week before the November 6 election, which is shaping up as a toss-up.

Romney must balance a desire to use the precious last days of the campaign to maintain momentum without appearing oblivious to suffering Americans.

He has already been accused of muscling in on tragedy for political gain -- over the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi last month -- and so can ill afford any missteps seen as motivated by hope of an electoral dividend.

Equally, any errors by Obama in the wake of the storm could help Romney build his case that Benghazi was a symptom of a wider malaise and unraveling of leadership in the White House.

The hurricane and likely widespread power cuts in swing states like Virginia will also disarm plans by both campaigns to deluge voters with non-stop television advertising in the final days.

Romney leads by a few points in some national polls of the popular vote, but Obama is clinging to a slim advantage in the state-by-state race to 270 electoral votes needed to secure the White House.

But Obama was up one point, a swing back to the president of three points from last week, in the latest GWU/Politico/Battleground poll Monday.

A CNN/ORC poll in Florida, the biggest swing state, meanwhile suggested the race there has tightened, with Romney leading by only a single point.


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