Hillary Clinton has a hurricane problem.
The Democratic presidential nominee was hoping to generate momentum in the media before Sunday night’s debate. But then Hurricane Matthew came along.
“If they’re out being too political at a time when the country has its prayers with the people who are being affected, I think it could backfire.”
The Category 4 hurricane is expected to pummel Florida’s east coast with winds of up to 140 mph and gusts of up to 165 mph.
The story on Thursday morning was all over the news, sucking time away from the presidential candidates. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, whose second home is Palm Beach County, doesn’t seem bothered by the distraction.
But Clinton seems very concerned the attention the hurricane is getting could take away from momentum she is trying to build, especially in Florida. So Clinton did what Clinton does best — she bought ads touting her campaign in order to capitalize on the natural disaster.
Politico reported that Clinton bought $63,000 worth of ads on the Weather Channel, which sees a surge in viewership when hurricanes or very bad weather threaten the United States. The ads will target Florida in particular.
Republicans panned the ad buy. One key Republican questioned the appropriateness of campaigning while people are bound to suffer.
“That’s a risky proposition,” said U.S. Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon on “Fox & Friends” Thursday morning. Walden is the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
“I don’t know what they’re going to say,” said Walden. “We don’t know, but clearly if they’re out being too political at a time when the country has its prayers with the people who are being affected, I think it could backfire.”
Comments responding to a story on the New York Post’s Twitter feed erupted with condemnation.
But Hillary’s problems could go deeper than just repulsion over her ad buy. Her behavior during the flooding in Louisiana and Mississippi was markedly different.
Then, Clinton “monitored” the rain and flooding from her Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“The flooding there is bigger than anyone expected,” Clinton posted on Facebook. “More than 40,000 homes have been damaged and more than 100,000 people have been affected. My heart breaks for Louisiana.”
Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, went to the affected area and helped unload relief packages.
But Louisiana and Mississippi are not swing states, so Hillary’s involvement was limited.
Florida, on the other hand, is an opportunity for Clinton. The state has 29 electoral votes, as many as New York. If Trump loses Florida, the electoral math becomes almost impossible for him.
And in the past decade, Democrats have tried to use hurricanes and disasters to their advantage.
Ever since President George W. Bush was widely perceived as responding to Hurricane Katrina, in September 2005, in an inept and insensitive manner, Democrats have leaped on any opportunity to work a storm.
In 2012, in the middle of a heated re-election campaign, President Obama made sure to work the media after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey and New York and caused $75 billion in damage. Dozens were killed. Obama declared a halt in campaigning.
Except there wasn’t really a shutdown of media appearances. Obama met with Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, making himself look bipartisan and friendly. Meanwhile, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney also suspended his campaign.
When the campaign resumed at the beginning of November, Romney’s lead had dissipated along with Sandy. Obama did nothing wrong. In fact, he played it perfectly — and Republicans got schooled.
Clinton has learned from Obama, but the wrong lesson. Her ad buy is markedly different from Obama’s strategy.
It could backfire. Republican Gov. Rick Scott of Florida is not the kind of person who will let himself be used by Clinton for photo ops. Scott is said to be robotic and aloof — but in reality, he is sharp and nimble, both politically and as a governor.
Florida is threatened by a major hurricane for the first time in 11 years. Clinton sees opportunity in an ad buy. She should instead see the potential damage coming — and cancel her ad buy before she gets hit.