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Hurricane Sandy Bypasses Virginia, Leaving No Edge For Candidates

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HURRICANE SANDY VIRGINIA
Hurricane Sandy threatened catastrophic damage to Virginia's coast, but its impact ended up being far less. (Joshua Hersh) | Joshua Hersh

COLONIAL BEACH, Va. -- If Hurricane Sandy was going to have an impact on next week's presidential election, the swing state of Virginia would seem a likely a place to look.

But on Tuesday, as relieved residents of this resort town on the coast returned to their normal lives having largely escaped the wrath of the storm, any potential political fallout appeared muted.

"We're just happy this one didn't get so crazy," said Julie Sanford, a waitress at Wilkerson's Seafood restaurant, as she served a single customer in a booth facing the swollen Potomac River.

Behind the restaurant, the river lapped at the edge of the building, and an outdoor pier was almost entirely submerged, with just the tops of its pilings visible. Otherwise, the restaurant, like much of the town around it, escaped unscathed. Sanford compared the storm to 2003's Hurricane Isabel, which made landfall nearby and did extensive damage to Wilkerson's, flooding the kitchen and knocking out most of the back wall.

"I thought it was going to be much worse," Sanford said.

Other places along the East Coast fared worse: in New York City, lower Manhattan was plunged into darkness, and the damage from the storm is expected to keep power out, and the subway system shut down for as much as a week. In nearby Atlantic City, some of the popular beach boardwalk was shredded.

The political fallout is harder to gauge. Few doubt that pitch-perfect management by President Barack Obama may help improve his stature among some undecided voters -- just as any bumbling or major recovery delays would prove costly.

And in some of the worst-hit places, the political creep was already setting in on Tuesday. In New Jersey, for instance, Gov. Chris Christie, a prominent Republican seemed to go out of his way to heap praise upon Obama for his cool handling of the crisis.

"He's done -- as far as I’m concerned -- a great job for New Jersey," Christie said Monday morning.

But New Jersey is not considered a swing state -- most polls indicate a healthy lead for Obama, and neither campaign is spending much time in the state. Virginia, on the other hand, is, and both Republican candidate Mitt Romney and Obama desperately want its 13 electoral votes. Recent polls show the race a dead-heat.

On Tuesday, few Virginians along the coast said they any direct political consequence from the storm that had mostly bypassed them.

A few intersections in town were flooded, and some restaurants were closed, but most businesses remained open, almost tauntingly. "Sayonara Sandy, We're Open," read a sign outside a Papa John's.

"Last year I got flooded and the government didn't help us out at all, so why would I expect them to do more this time?" said Robin Burns, a waitress at Steamers Grill in nearby King George. "So why should I care what the politicians say in their speeches? I'd rather look to other issues to decide who to vote for."

"This shit happens," said Stephanie Adams, one of Burns' customers.

Most patrons at Fat Freda's Restaurant in Colonial Beach agreed that Obama seemed to have handled the damage further north appropriately.

"What's he going to do, stop the storm?" asked one regular, who declined to give her name, referring to Obama.

Westmoreland County, home to Colonial Beach, has favored Republicans in recent decades, although Obama won the county by 800 votes in 2008, a margin of 11 percentage points. Neighboring King George County went to Republican John McCain by a similar margin. Yard signs and highway ads seemed to strongly favor the Romney-Ryan ticket.

Virginia did not entirely escape the superstorm's destruction. By 5 p.m., 103,000 residents remained without electricity, and 279 roads were closed, according to Marshal Barnhill, a spokeswoman at the state Department of Emergency Management. Disaster crews were predominantly concerned with small cities in the mountainous western region of the state, Barnhill added, where snow began to fall on Tuesday, with icy conditions are expected to persist into Wednesday.

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