The politics of hurricanes are never easy to predict, just like the giant storms themselves. So the Obama campaign has approached Gustav with great caution and an overriding sense of responsibility.
Barack Obama and Joe Biden made their first statement urging Gulf residents to follow evacuation orders on Saturday evening, after a huge rally on a football field in Dublin, Ohio. The next morning, after church services in Lima, Obama followed up with a more urgent warning to evacuate, which was broadcast on all local TV stations in the New Orleans area.
Unlike John McCain, Obama's aides say they have no plans to visit the area before the hurricane makes landfall, preferring to consider a trip in the storm's aftermath later in the week. Much depends on the hurricane's point of impact, as well as the devastation in its wake.
"The thing I'm always concerned about in the middle of the storm is whether we are drawing resources away from folks on the ground, because the Secret Service and various security requirements sometimes pulls police and fire and other departments away from concentrating on the job," Obama told reporters on Sunday. "We are going to try to stay clear of the area until things have settled down and then we will probably try to figure out how we can be as helpful as possible."
Obama pledged to activate his formidable grassroots network--via e-mail for cash donations, and on the ground with volunteers--to help with the cleanup and assistance to those most in need.
In the meantime, Obama is doing more than his fair share of telephone briefings to officials directly responsible for emergency management. He spoke to Louisiana's Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu on Sunday, along with Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff. The day before, he spoke with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and FEMA director David Paulison.
So is Obama expecting a better response to Gustav than the disaster that followed Katrina? "My hope is that we all learned from the terrible lesson that we saw after Katrina and Rita," he told reporters. "Having said that, even if some of those lessons have been learned, it is still very unpredictable what the course of the storm is going to be or what its magnitude is, and this is always going to be difficult."
Just like the politics of a hurricane.