In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the state’s political candidates are attempting to walk a fine line between respecting the devastation the storm wrought on Connecticut residents and getting their message out before Nov. 6.
Sandy hit the Northeast Monday evening and by Tuesday morning at least two people in Connecticut were dead and more than 630,000 households were without power.
In what might be considered a testament to the storm’s impact, the campaigns of both the candidates for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat are saying their candidates have still not resumed actively campaigning with just five days left before Election Day.
Chris Cooper, spokesman for Republican 5th District candidate Andrew Roraback, said candidates and campaigns don’t want to come across as insensitive to the challenges the state is facing.
“I think you want to be respectful of what’s obviously going on in the state, in the district and outside of it. People are focused on their friends, their families and neighbors and people who are having problems,” he said.
Cooper said the 5th District wasn’t impacted quite as hard as some areas of the state and he didn’t believe they had completely suspended campaign activity at any point. But the storm saw Roraback focusing on his job as a state senator rather than his role as a candidate.
“Andrew definitely reverted back to his state senator position during the storm,” Cooper said. “The campaign absolutely took a backseat to his other responsibilities.”
Cooper said Roraback has had to multitask, spending time responding to constituents and officials within his senatorial district.
Roraback’s opponent, Democrat and former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty, saw her campaign somewhat halted by the storm.
“Monday and Tuesday things were pretty much shut down. We sent some folks home,” Esty spokesman Jeb Fain said.
Fain said the campaign is slowly resuming normal operations.
“We’re slowly getting back up to speed and moving forward to Election Day,” he said.
The U.S. Senate race has been slower in returning to form. Both Democrat Chris Murphy and Republican Linda McMahon announced they were suspending normal campaign activity ahead of the storm.
On Thursday both campaigns said they hadn’t resumed normal operations. But that doesn’t mean the two candidates haven’t been active.
Like Roraback, Murphy, who currently represents the 5th District, seemed to have resumed his congressional duties.
“Right now, Chris is focused on storm recovery,” his campaign spokesman Ben Marter said.
As he visited National Guard troops with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy later in the day, Murphy elaborated.
“I’m still, you know, working on trying to get my district and my state back safe and sound,” he said. “I have a feeling that over the next few days we’ll work in some more campaign activities but this is really about making sure that people are still safe and not everybody in this state is safe yet.”
Murphy said for the time being, he wasn’t attempting to balance his time between his candidacy and his current office.
“Right now my obligation is to represent the 5th District,” he said.
In the days since Sandy hit the state, Murphy has at times been included in Malloy’s unified command briefings. He’s also been touring the state surveying damage. On Thursday, he rode along with Malloy on an aerial tour. Later, Murphy, along with the rest of the state’s congressional delegation and Malloy held a press conference with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.
McMahon’s campaign, on the other hand, began the week tweeting safety tips and retweeting messages coming from the governor’s office. She has spent the days since visiting emergency shelters, often bringing food or coffee for those staying there. She also brought coloring books for children at the shelters. Her campaign has been tweeting pictures of McMahon meeting with residents.
McMahon’s spokesman Todd Abrajano said she would continue touring shelters Thursday and would also be meeting with emergency responders.
“Not really back to campaigning yet,” he said in an email.
McMahon has also opened her campaign offices for nearby residents to use to charge their cell phones. Murphy said he was grateful his opponent was trying to help.
“I think she’s doing what she can to help out and I think we need all hands on deck right now,” he said.
Whether the candidates are actively campaigning, it has likely been hard for people with electricity to forget about them. Throughout all of the post-storm activity, political TV spots have continued to air in heavy doses for the candidates in both races.
McMahon’s ads are also aired in parts of New York. They caught the attention of NBC Nightly News Anchor Brian Williams, who said they were “surreal” against the backdrop of the storm.
“…in this part of the country those who do have television are seeing attack ads from a woman named Linda McMahon who’s running for Senate up in Connecticut, airing like nothing had changed, juxtaposed against the damage. It’s just a very strange time,” he said.
Though hundreds of thousands of residents remain without power, expect the campaigns to resume their efforts in force during the final days of the election. McMahon will be giving a talk regarding her platform at a Friday luncheon hosted by the MetroHartford Alliance.
Murphy cancelled a campaign event scheduled for Friday but will attend an American Federation of Teachers rally Saturday with AFT President Randi Weingarten and state AFL-CIO President John Olsen in Hartford.