Sandy Effect: Obama Pollster Weighs In

Cornell Belcher told us how storm damage might affect Nov. 6, and how early voting now compares with 2008.

Early voters in Ohio (Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images)
Early voters in Ohio (Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Obama campaign pollster Cornell Belcher, a leading public-opinion researcher, is known for his work on behalf of the Democratic National Committee, which culminated in the “50-state strategy” that helped propel the president to victory in 2008.

The day after Hurricane Sandy finished ravaging the Northeast, he spoke with The Root about the storm’s possible impact on the candidates’ chances and why, in his view, “early voting is outperforming 2008.”

The Root: Sandy wreaked havoc on people’s lives and the infrastructure of several states. How will it affect the elections?  

Cornell Belcher: Sandy did most of its damage to the bluest states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. It did very little damage in the purple states like Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. You’re not going to see much impact on voters going to polls because of structural damage. If you look at where early voting is the focal point of the election — Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Iowa and Virginia — those are states that were the least damaged, if at all, by the hurricane, and there is no indication that the early vote is falling off.

TR: Will President Obama being commander in chief during a crisis have a greater impact on swing-state voters than campaigning in those states?

CB: I think it bakes the image in. It reinforces the president’s strong leadership and competence, something George W. Bush lost the moment Katrina hit and voters saw him not responding in a way that showed leadership. President Obama’s performance sends the message that voters can trust this president when something goes down. Even one of Romney’s chief spokespeople, the governor of New Jersey, has said over and over again what an excellent job the president is doing.

TR: What a difference a year makes. Last year Gov. Chris Christie said that Obama “has no idea how to use executive power.” He castigated the president for being a “bystander in the Oval Office” preparing to “divide our nation to achieve re-election.” Now it’s practically a lovefest, with them touring together and backslapping each other. Christie called the president “outstanding.” What happened?