Candidates are visible, if not quite campaigning
U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy accompanied Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on his disaster tour in Newtown, as did U.S. Rep. Jim Himes in Greenwich. Linda McMahon dropped off coloring books at a shelter in Norwalk.
The trick for political candidates in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy was to stay visible Tuesday without being overtly political.
Connecticut’s two nationally watched races — the contest for an open Senate seat and an open congressional seat in the 5th District — moved uncertainly toward a resumption of campaign activities.
In the 5th, NBC30 canceled its Tuesday night debate between Democrat Elizabeth S. Esty and Republican Andrew W. Roraback, but the AARP plans to go forward Wednesday with its forum, originally scheduled for Monday.
Longstanding plans to close out the election season suddenly had little value. No one, it seems, has a playbook on what to do when 40 percent of the state loses power a week before Election Day.
“There is no model that I’m familiar with,” said Corry Bliss, the campaign manager for McMahon, the GOP’s nominee for Senate. “We’re taking things day by day at this point.”
Murphy, the Democratic nominee for Senate, attended Malloy’s storm briefings at the Hartford Armory, then joined him on a damage tour that included a stop at the emergency operations center in Newtown, which is part of Murphy’s district.
“My concern is simply making sure people are safe,” Murphy said.
As a sitting congressman, Murphy had an official role to play, as did the state’s other four U.S. House members. But McMahon also toured emergency operation centers and at least two shelters.
“Linda has been spending all day visiting, volunteering in shelters, delivering granola bars and coloring books for kids,” Bliss said. “She’ll be delivering pizzas tonight for several shelters.”
McMahon used social-media platforms to send out storm updates Monday and to invite people without power Tuesday to use its field offices to recharge cellphones, a soft form of campaigning.
Her Twitter feed chronicles her volunteer activities, with photos of her coloring with children at a shelter in Norwalk and dropping off coffee at a shelter in Greenwich.
Murphy also has used Twitter to give a running account of his visits around the 5th District, which he has represented for six years.
“Chris’s focus now is on making sure the 41 towns in the 5th Congressional District are getting what they need,” said Ben Marter, a campaign spokesman. “He is working with the delegation and the governor to secure federal disaster assistance.”
Except for the 600,000 utility customers still without power, the campaign never ended in one sense: The 24/7 political ads continued throughout the storm and its aftermath.
Campaigns monitored power restoration efforts, trying to gauge if long-planned get-out-the-vote efforts will require last-minute revisions before voters go to the polls next Tuesday.
“I think the biggest concern is we don’t want to see polling places moved,” said Julie Sweet, the campaign manager for Esty.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said the state’s experience a year ago with a freak snow storm a week before the municipal elections turned out to be valuable preparation for this year.
“We’re far more ready than we were a year ago,” she said. “We have emergency plans put in place. Everybody knows how to change a polling place within the law. We’ve given this far more thought than we did a year ago.”
Merrill will have a conference call Wednesday with registrars of voters to get a sense of problems with lack of power or accessibility to polling places.
Theoretically, a town could hold elections without power.
“You don’t really need power for these machines. They have back up batteries,” she said.
One value of last year’s experience, she said, is that registrars know they needed to have the batteries fully charged before the storm.
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