Democrats hope Jersey bromance will push Obama over the line

It’s official: Halloween has been postponed in New Jersey.

Although you’d think it was highly unlikely that trick-and-treaters dressed in ghost and goblin and skeletal costumes would be traipsing around in knee-deep flood waters, the Governor of the Garden State, Chris Christie, interrupted his conversations and walking tours with President Obama to declare in an executive order that Halloween celebrations be held on Monday, November 5. You can read the official order in this story:

Chris Christie is a Republican, but the more I see of him, the more I like him. Barack Obama obviously feels the same way. His lavish praise of the governor’s handling of the disaster has been matched by Christie’s press conference comments, and the picture of them shaking hands in front of the President’s helicopter, Marine One, in Atlantic City is one that will stick in people’s minds (New York Times photo above by Doug Mills). Theirs is a bromance that must be upsetting Mitt Romney — though he dare not mention it in public, similar to his reported silent anger over Clint Eastwood’s chair routine at the Republican Convention.

The worst recorded storm in US history is no laughing matter, given the growing death toll, the massive damage bill, and the disruption to daily life across many northeastern states. But it has had its bizarre moments – most of them broadcast last night on The Chaser: Hamster Wheel on the ABC. It’s worth a look on i’view if you haven’t seen it. (Remember it expires in 27 days.)

It was a perfect storm, but not perfect media coverage. Surely there was no need for reporters to do their standups in fast-flowing floodwaters, endangering their lives and the lives of authorities who might have had to rescue them – especially when the police warned people to get off the streets. (There’s a very good example of this on The Chaser last night.) Speaking of the perfect storm, CNN even had Sebastian Junger, the author of the book of the same name, talking about Hurricane Sandy, but thankfully, he was in a studio and only mentioned his restaurant in lower Manhattan at 23rd St and Tenth Avenue was surrounded by water (with pictures, of course). But CNN did have lots of information and graphics to tell viewers it wasn’t safe to go outside (even though their reporters were there!). There were a lot of mixed messages from the TV coverage, with journalists suggesting to people at home “to do as I say, not as I do,” as David Bauer of AP noted:

When you have great pictures of a powerful storm, there is no need to add adjectives like “awesome” and “mind-boggling,” even if it is “awesome” and “mind-blogging.” The pictures tell the story, enhanced, of course, by natural sound of trees falling down, witnesses’ comments at the time, howling wind and waves crashing into the beach. Just summarise and complement the vision. It’s common sense, really.

At least, the media has come to the aid of the victims of Sandy. Rupert Murdoch has pledged a million dollars from News Corp in a tweet, and asked other companies to contribute. I was watching Boardwalk Empire on Foxtel last night, wondering how much of the Atlantic City boardwalk was left. Then I discovered a viewer in Philadelphia had done the same and started a petition, asking HBO to get the producers, cast and crew to help with relief efforts. They can hardly say no to such a request.


The social media and emails have changed how we respond to disasters. When 9/11 occurred, I called and emailed friends in New York to make sure they were okay. This time, with the power down, I sent an email and made a call to relatives in New Jersey, Facebook messages to a niece in Washington and a friend in Vermont, and emails to friends in Southampton on Long Island, Washington and Vermont. All were fine, though my mate in Southampton had to move in with neighbours – good friends who had a generator for a night. Several big trees fell down around his property, including one on the front doorstep, but fortunately, neither the car nor any of the family were there. A cousin in Ocean City, New Jersey, had left his home to stay with his daughter farther inland, and all he had was a bit of flooding in the garage. Another cousin lived near a lake in western New Jersey, and while the winds and rains were heavy, there was no flooding. Mates in Washington stayed dry, except for one who had water in the basement. But he already had boards on the floor, so no damage, just aggravation, as he put it. Seven and a half inches of rain had fallen in the storm. Update Friday, Nov 2: I’ve heard from friends in Philadelphia, well, they’re not there now, but in Oregon. They said there is no power in their house in Philly and lots of trees were down. Friends in Stowe, Vermont, also wrote to say they’re in Portugal now, but have heard their house was fine, and from their daughters, that Boston was okay, too. I have discovered I have a lot of peripatetic friends – which is good news! And finally, from Albany, the capital of New York State, a friend emailed to say Sandy was a no-show, despite “scary warnings” and all the schools, malls, businesses, state offices, etc shutting down early on Monday. But it is better to be safe than sorry, as they’ve discovered in New York City and New Jersey.

All this against a background of the presidential election next Tuesday, where the latest Washington Post/ABC America poll has Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on 49 per cent each. It can’t get any closer. There has been a positive response to the President’s conduct in the crisis, as mentioned above, and there’s not much Romney can do about that.

Given that the Sandy aftermath is going to last for some time, especially in New Jersey and New York, Barack Obama is likely to be the recipient of a “storm surge” in the polls (as mentioned disparagingly in ABC America’s The Note today But it’s only likely to be a point or two, and that’s not enough to change the closeness of this election. If you are planning to watch the results next Wednesday, be prepared for a long wait before a winner is declared. Four pm at the earliest is my prediction.

But the Obama campaign is sounding optimistic again. The President’s senior strategist, David Axelrod, bet a TV presenter he would shave off his moustache of 40 years, if the Democrats lost any of three swing states, now said to be safe: Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Axelrod also said Hurricane Sandy would freeze the race, wherever it is now, and he believes Obama has the lead. Update Friday Nov 2: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s endorsement of the President isn’t going to hurt his chances. The endorsement was a bit lukewarm, as the Mayor cited climate change as a factor, but admitted this week’s devastation may or may not be the result of such change. Still, Bloomberg is an influential independent businessman, who impressed New Yorkers with his management of the crisis, and is known around the nation and the world. Barack Obama said he was honoured to receive the endorsement.

There is a chance, of course, that the victims of the storm may not be able to vote, or have more important matters to deal with, like burying their loved ones, trying to salvage what they can from their homes and lives, and staying afloat – physically and financially. Voting is not compulsory in the United States. That’s more likely to affect Barack Obama than Mitt Romney.

But to return to New Jersey, Governor Christie will be hoping the residents of the Garden State will have something to celebrate next Monday on its belated Halloween. For President Obama, he will be hoping Democrats from New Jersey, and the rest of the country, will be able to continue their celebrations on Tuesday night. No tricks, just a treat.

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