The Amazing Race: How Hurricane Sandy Scrambled the Political Landscape

AROUND THE TIME MR. ROVE was evaluating the hurricane’s impact on the presidential race, Newark Mayor Cory Booker was hosting more than a dozen of his storm-tossed constituents at his home in the Upper Clinton Hill neighborhood. This was retail politics taken to an extreme: after sending out an invitation via Twitter, Mr. Booker opened his home to anyone who needed a crash pad, then brought in heaping trays of chicken, fish, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, corn bread and candied yams from a local restaurant. Families snuggled up wherever they could, and exhausted local children zoned out in front of a DVD of Happy Feet, ate Halloween candy and molded animals out of Play-Doh.

If they’d had enough of the stuff, they might have sculpted a giant bust of the mayor and slapped it up on Mount Rushmore. He’d earned it.

“It meant—I can’t even explain,” Alice Bell, one of the neighbors who took refuge in Mr. Booker’s home, told The Observer, her voice cracking with emotion. “I mean, we were—I’m still overwhelmed that he would reach out to us like that.”

Mr. Booker has long enjoyed a reputation as a “supermayor” for his hands-on style. (Remember the time he rushed into a burning building to save a woman from a house fire? His constituents do.)

But while Mr. Booker, who oversees a city of under 300,000 citizens, is a master of the personal touch—and of Twitter—that option is less realistic for state and federal politicians and mayors like Michael Bloomberg, whose constituents number in the millions. (Though, had he opened his Upper East Side townhouse, which is valued at over $30 million, it would have been quite a story.)

Mr. Booker’s response—apolitical as it seemed—was brilliant politics. “The best thing that a politician can do is keep away from politics and go volunteer, help out in giving out meals to the area, console the people that have been devastated and, in effect, give everyone a huge hug,” said political consultant George Arzt. “Don’t get in the way of first responders. You’re there as reassurance for people and inspiration.”

Mr. Christie, for his part, was so eager to avoid politics he wound up stumbling right into them. “If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don’t know me,” he told Steve Doocy when asked about his extraordinarily warm embrace of Mr. Obama, prompting The New York Post to suggest that he make sure to reiterate his endorsement of Mr. Romney “or the Republican party will never forgive him.”

That said, given the widespread praise that has greeted Mr. Christie’s handling of the disaster, they might just have to.