Editorial: Sandy could tip the balance


Given the widespread devastation, it is no surprise that the Obama administration has designated Hurricane Sandy a "major disaster". The "superstorm" – the largest in the Atlantic since records began in 1851 – beat a path nearly 1,000 miles wide across one of the most populous parts of North America, winds of more than 80 miles-per-hour spreading destruction from Massachusetts to the Carolinas.

In the aftermath, swathes of major urban areas, including Manhattan and Atlantic City, were under water. A record 4m storm surge in New York left a vast tanker beached on a Staten Island street. As many as 50 million people are estimated to have been affected, and millions of homes are without power, and are likely to remain so for many days yet.

Mercifully, the death toll is, thus far at least, relatively low, given the severity of the storm. The efforts of the US authorities at all levels – in evacuating more than a million people, in closing down public transport networks, and in counselling extreme caution without stoking public panic – must take some of the credit, as must the good sense of the citizenry in following such advice.

So far, politicians have resisted the temptation to try to capitalise on the situation. Quite right. That Sandy has put a stop to election campaigning, and all but knocked next week's presidential vote out of the news, is testament to the havoc wrought. But its arrival in the final week of a neck-and-neck race cannot fail to have an impact. The question, of course, is which way the balance will be tilted?

It is Barack Obama who is in the spotlight. The opportunity to appear presidential, in a situation that may remind some sceptics of the value of government (federal and otherwise), could give the President a much-needed fillip. But there is plenty that could go wrong. And with the Democrats needing a higher turnout, the disruption alone might give Mitt Romney the boost he needs.