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Sunday 4 November 2012

Sandy blows in and adds colour to White House race

Obama may not have made a Faustian pact over the weather, but it may tip the scales, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

I don't think I've seen an interesting American headline since in Washington on my first-ever visit, a billboard saying "Indians Massacre Senators" sent me running to buy the newspaper. The story turned out to be about a convincing win by the Cleveland Indians baseball team had over the Washington senators.

I miss the wit and playfulness of our sub-editors but to give their American counterparts their due, you know what you're getting.

So the list of available stories this weekend on the Real Clear Politics site -- where I've been spending far too much time during this presidential campaign -- makes blindingly clear that the result is not a foregone conclusion.

"Why Romney is Likely to Win", says the Weekly Standard, "Obama Set to Scrape a Victory," says the New Yorker, "Romney Doomed by Objections to Auto Bailout", says USA Today, while Red State warns "Don't be Surprised When Obama Loses".

In truth, most of these organs and commentators are so partisan they're just whistling in the dark to cheer on their team. The Washington Post's "Obama, Romney Make Last Mad Dash" is one of the few headlines no one can challenge.

The headline I found most interesting of those on offer today was The Hill's "Ethnic Mix of the Electorate Will Determine Winner", for the racial angles on this election are so sensitive they're being mostly tiptoed around.

In 2008, Obama secured 43 per cent of the white vote, 67 per cent of the Hispanic and 95 per cent of the black. The article rightly contends that Obama has to focus on limiting his losses among white voters and getting the black vote out, while Romney has no chance with blacks so needs to hold down his deficit among Hispanic voters and get out the whites.

There has been much shouting about white racism in relation to Obama. The other day I heard a preposterous spokesman from the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) attributing racist motives to whites who aren't voting for Obama even if they'd voted for him before. No one gave him a hard time about the blindingly obvious racism of many black voters.

One of the few who speaks clearly about this is Walter Williams, a trenchant conservative black national columnist. In an article attacking Obama's record in office, he pointed out that while his national job approval is under 50 per cent, it's 88 per cent among blacks. There's nothing unusual about this, he said, for blacks keep re-electing even useless black mayors or chiefs of police.

"If it's a black politician whose policies are ineffectual and possibly harmful to the masses of the black community, it's tolerable, but it's entirely unacceptable if the politician is white. . . What that suggests about black people is not very flattering."

So who's going to win?

Those trying to look at events dispassionately would mostly agree that Sandy may have swung it for Obama. There's no shortage of explanations for why that hurricane struck. Anti-American Muslim clerics pronounced it revenge from God for the "Innocence of Muslims" video that had sparked off protests among the deluded.

It was "God's judgement on gays", announced an evangelical American Christian preacher maddened by Obama's support for gay marriage. Eco-warriors put it down to "global weirding": ("A wounded earth is speaking . . . are you listening?"). This was tentatively echoed by the achingly right-on Channel 4 News supremo, Jon Snow, enquiring if perhaps to some extent "the most energy-consuming country in the world brought this on itself".

If Obama now wins, I'm sure there will be those who will conclude he made some kind of Faustian pact to bring Sandy to the East Coast a week before the election and enable him to strut his presidential stuff, present his caring side and hug Republicans.

The footage of a concerned Obama beaming at Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, was invaluable, and must have had a positive effect on undecided voters who worry about Obama's inability to emulate Bill Clinton in doing deals with opposition leaders.

Obama praised Christie's extraordinary leadership: Christie, hitherto a no-holds-barred critic, praised the president for showing "concern and compassion".

"It's been a great working relationship," he said. You don't have to be on Team Romney to wonder if Christie was calculating that his chances of getting the 2016 Republican nomination are better if Romney loses in 2012.

As befits someone who began his political career as a community organiser, Obama has an excellent organisation on the ground in the swing states bent on getting out the Democratic vote: in Ohio, he has 131 field offices to Romney's 40.

A week ago, I'd have called it for Romney: now, if forced to bet, I'd go for Obama. But what do I know? I didn't predict Sandy. This nail-biting campaign isn't over till it's over.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards