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Nate Silver Pre-Debunks Republican Spin That Sandy Re-Elected Obama

11/05/2012 11:37 am ET | Updated Jan 05, 2013

We all know it's coming. The Republicans are going to say that Mitt Romney would have won the election, but then Sandy came along and blew Barack Obama back into the White House. Karl Rove previewed this line as early as Friday:

Karl Rove told The Washington Post:

"'If you hadn't had the storm, there would have been more of a chance for the Romney campaign to talk about the deficit, the debt, the economy. There was a stutter in the campaign. When you have attention drawn away to somewhere else, to something else, it is not to his [Romney's] advantage.'

[...]

'It's the October surprise,' Rove said of Sandy. 'For once, the October surprise was a real surprise.'"

Haley Barbour whined, "The hurricane is what broke Romney's momentum." Romney insiders are offering similar stories, off the record of course. For more details, read the full article at The Atlantic titled: "Republicans Blame Sandy for Killing Romney's Momentum."
They may not come right out and say it, but the implication is that Romney should have won, that the American people were ready to elect him, and it took an "act of God" to give Obama the victory, which is now somehow tainted and not a real mandate.

When Karl Rove and George W. Bush won a close election in 2004, of course, they earned a mandate and the media went right along.

This is coming. And that's why I was so pleased to see Nate Silver engage in some prophylactic pre-debunking of this claim. Nate looked at the numbers, which is of course what he does. Yes, Obama's numbers have risen in the days following the storm. However, he was already likely to have won the election when the storm hit (Nate had him at a 73 percent chance of winning an electoral college majority on Oct. 29). Furthermore, the momentum was already on Obama's side at that point, as he had improved his numbers significantly over the previous two weeks according to Nate's predictive model.

Nate summarized his take as follows: "while the storm and the response to it may account for some of Mr. Obama's gains, it assuredly does not reflect the whole of the story."

Nate offers a number of reasons why, in addition to Sandy, the president's numbers could have improved in the past seven days:

Mr. Obama was adjudicated the winner of the second and third presidential debates in surveys of voters who watched them.

The past month has brought a series of encouraging economic news, including strong jobs reports in October and last Friday.

The bounce in the polls that Mr. Romney received after the Denver debate may have been destined to fade in part, as polling bounces often do following political events like national conventions.

Finally, Nate steps back and looks at the big picture:

If I had told you in January that Mr. Obama's approval rating would have risen close to 50 percent by November, and that the unemployment rate would have dropped below 8 percent, you likely would have inferred that Mr. Obama was a favorite for re-election, with or without a hurricane and what was judged to be a strong response to it.

This is not to dismiss the effects of the hurricane entirely. But the fact that Mr. Obama's rebound in the polls has been slow and steady, rather than sudden, would lend weight to some of these other ideas, even if they make for less dramatic narratives.

The larger point is that the battle to control the narrative never takes a break, even in the moment the winner is announced. Republicans will try to say that Romney would have won without Sandy, and will likely at least hint that this de-legitimizes Obama's victory. To me that's ridiculous.

Barack Obama's performance during Sandy earned him any bump he got and, more importantly, the storm reminded Americans of the differences in the two parties' approaches to the role of government. Sandy is exactly what elections should be about. We are deciding which candidate can deal with the real problems America will face. What's more relevant in answering that question than what we've faced the past seven days?