It's inevitable that I should write a post like this, if for no other reason than to give y'all a chance to sound off about it on the thread.
In truth, none of us has any idea how this plays. I will note that it appears that only two states that are in play are likely to be directly affected in a big way--Virginia and New Hampshire. And Virginia, from the tracking I've seen, isn't really in the main path, which appears to be mostly to the Northeast.
That leaves the Granite State. Expect to see a disproprotionate amount of disaster footage from Hampton Beach on Fox over the next couple of days ("New Hampshire has just been pummelled, and some are saying that the president just doesn't seem to care that much...").
If the storm proves to be just overwhelming, obviously it can generate some negative press for the admininstration; it may be so devastating that no amount of preparation could stop many billions of dollars' worth of damage from happening.
On the other hand, all a president usually has to do is seem to be on top of the sitch and caring about what happens. Bush messed up Katrina not because he didn't care about New Orleans or its black people, but because he just never paid much attention to facts and evidence, in Iraq or New Orleans or anywhere. Obama, fortunately, is an empiricist, so I think we can assume he's paying attention and directing the appropriate agencies to do appropriate things.
However, bad weather can adversely affect the incumbent party, some studies show. Vanderbilt's Larry Bartels told MoJo's Adam Serwer:
"The pretty strong pattern turns out to be that all other things being equal, the incumbent party does less well when it's too wet or too dry," says Larry Bartels, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University. In 2004, Bartels and his then-colleague Christopher H. Achen, who's now a professor at Princeton, authored a study on the impact of climate on elections. According to their study, Al Gore lost an estimated 2.8 million votes to George W. Bush in certain states because of drought or excessive rain.
On the other side of the ledger, we do have Romney on record as saying privatize FEMA. He did not quite say that FEMA was "immoral," as some are writing. He said the debt to future generations caused by government spending on projects such as FEMA is immoral.
But that's not a defense. I think his statement itself was close to immoral. As The National Memo asks this morning, if disaster relief isn't providing for the general welfare, then what is? Privatization of this service seems particularly dubious to me. I can see privatization of garbage collection, say--a firm can make money from it.
But who can make a profit from disaster relief? Maintaining levees and breach walls seems like a pretty expensive undertaking. Then what happens when disaster strikes--households are going to be charged a couple thousand bucks for the work performed? And of course, they'd be charged even if their homes were destroyed, or companies would try to, because the company's expenses would still have occurred.
It's a daft, dishonest, stupid, totally non-sensical idea, which is to say, for Mitt Romney, about par for the course.