As hurricane Sandy barrelled towards the east coast, Iowa's Des Moines Register newspaper endorsed Mitt Romney – the first Republican it had endorsed since Richard Nixon in 1972 (look how that turned out). Arguing that "the partisan divide had hardened" under Barack Obama, the leader writers said: "One of the biggest obstacles either candidate faces is partisan gridlock in Congress [which] has hampered not only the economy, but the entire country."
A week earlier the Orlando Sentinel, which backed Obama in 2008 in the crucial state of Florida, made the same argument in its support for Romney. "With Obama in charge, the federal government came perilously close to a default last year," it said. "It verges on magical thinking to expect Obama to get different results in the next four years."
As Sandy inched closer, coverage of the campaign – like the campaigning itself – was suspended. All talk of gridlock was eclipsed by scenes of mayhem. One day reporters were standing in front of electoral maps analysing every poll, demographic and gaffe while speculating about the outcome. The next they were standing in sou'westers in wind and rain speculating about where it would make landfall. For a few days Ohio got a reprieve while New Jersey got a battering, and pollsters took a back seat while meteorologists drove the story.
But when the winds subsided and the campaigns resumed, the dynamics of the race had changed and the validity of those arguments had been challenged. The hurricane and its aftermath helped illustrate the vacuity of this election campaign, what's at stake in its outcome, and who's responsible for the gridlock. With the frenetic polling and endless punditry, there may have been precious little calm before the storm but there was a greater degree of clarity after it.