The conventional wisdom is that the threat of Hurricane Isaac, now barreling down on New Orleans, has been something of a mild political disaster for Mitt Romney's coming-out party in Tampa. Fearing that Isaac would hit Tampa directly (it didn't), Republicans canceled their convention's first day, and now, instead of scoring a four-day blitz of round-the-clock Romney coverage, Republicans are facing a reality in which many media outlets are focusing significant attention on President Obama and his administration's effort to get a head start on relief efforts before the storm hits Louisiana. Of course, the dangerous weather presents political risks for Obama, too. Here, four potential pitfalls for the president as Isaac hits shore:
1. His administration could botch the response
Obama is counting on his disaster-response team to spare him the embarrassment of "a repeat of the ham-handed response that hurt former President George W. Bush" when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast seven years ago, say Mark Felsenthal and Lisa Lambert at Reuters. Obama seems to be in good hands — his point man, Craig Fugate, is a career first-responder, while Bush's Michael "Brownie" Brown was a political appointee. Still, the pressure on Obama to handle this perfectly "will be enormous," says E.J. Dionne Jr. in The Washington Post. In this hyper-partisan election year, the GOP will magnify "every failure or shortcoming." Crises bring opportunity, but also "great dangers."
2. He could look callous by staying on the campaign trail
Obama has declared a state of emergency and gotten the response rolling early, says Stephanie Condon at CBS News, telling residents who might be in harm's way to evacuate early because "now is not the time to tempt fate." But while Vice President Joe Biden canceled appearances in Florida due to the storm, Obama is staying on the campaign trail for now. He may have left Gulf residents in good hands, but "he runs the risk of appearing unsympathetic or unresponsive to the storm by campaigning as it makes landfall."
3. Conservatives could accuse him of politicizing the disaster
Taking charge of the situation without being accused of politicizing it will be a "tricky task," says Reid J. Epstein at Politico. Conservative critics are bound to cry foul — in fact, Rush Limbaugh already has, accusing the Obama administration of hyping the threat to Tampa to disrupt the GOP convention, and of making the storm out to be another Katrina so he'll look like a hero and rekindle criticism of the last GOP administration.
4. Rising gas prices could sour voters on Obama
Isaac has already driven gasoline futures higher, says Christopher Helman at Forbes, as six of 12 refineries at a Gulf Coast complex in the storm's path shut down, and traders worried that damage could make fuel scarce overnight. Wholesale gasoline prices have already jumped by 7.7 cents, to $3.155 a gallon, thanks to Isaac, says Jonathan Faheysamantha Bomkamp of The Associated Press. If gas prices keep climbing, you can Obama may be pressured to release part of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to try to reduce the pain at the pump and avoid a backlash from voters.