Tragedy brings people together — and in the case of Hurricane Sandy’s East Coast landfall last Monday, the result is taking aggressive election year campaign politics apart —at least for a moment.

As eight states recover from declarations of emergency and some estimated $50 billion in damages, President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney set campaign politics — and funds — aside to aid in disaster relief and recovery.

With the now legendary debacle of former President George W. Bush’s mishandling of the Katrina disaster in New Orleans in 2005 still in recent memory, no president — or presidential candidate — would neglect an opportunity to lead or aid in the recovery of such a situation.

Both candidates are testing their mettle as national leaders of crisis response in what was expected to be the most heated week of aggressive politics during the election year, and with their actions being judged accordingly, it is turning into a week totally unexpected.

“I am not worried at this point about the impact on the election,” Obama said in response to a question about the disaster’s effect on next week’s election.

“I am worried about the impact on families. I am worried about the impact on first responders. I am worried about the impact on our economy and on transportation,” Obama said.

“The election will take care of itself next week. Right now, our No. 1 priority is to make sure that we are saving lives, that our search and rescue teams are going to be in place, that people are going to get the food, the shelter, the water they need in case of emergency and that we respond quickly to get the economy back on track,” Obama said.

Canceling scheduled campaign rallies in Florida and Virginia, Obama flew back to Washington, D.C., last Tuesday morning to head up the national government’s recovery effort, specifically overseeing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s disaster response. FEMA is the same organization directly responsible for dropping the ball after Hurricane Katrina.

On Wednesday, Obama directly surveyed the damage via helicopter and stopped in the most heavily damaged and affected areas to comfort families and visit Red Cross medical posts.

Foregoing scheduled campaign events in Virginia and New Hampshire, Romney changed a planned Ohio stop into a makeshift storm-relief-event overnight.

Romney set himself apart from Obama by not only calling on the national government and states to assist, but private citizens as well, embodying a primary principle of his political philosophy in a real-time scenario — private initiative versus public responsibility.

“I want to mention that our hearts and prayers are with all the people in the storm’s path,” Romney said to supporters at the event, complete with a canned food drive.

“Sandy is another devastating hurricane by all accounts, and a lot of people are going to be facing some real tough times as a result of Sandy’s fury. And so if you have the capacity to make a donation to the American Red Cross, you can go online and do that,” Romney said.

“If there are other ways that you can help, please take advantage of them because there will be a lot of people that are going to be looking for help and the people in Ohio have big hearts, so we’re expecting you to follow through and help out,” Romney said.

Romney used his campaign infrastructure in affected areas, including campaign centers and buses, to collect and distribute supplies in needy areas.

As the storm media coverage winds down and a consistent relief effort gets under way, the spotlight on both candidates displaying leadership roles in a time of crisis could go a long way to highlighting a decided winner in such a hotly contested election, down virtually to the wire.
Follow coverage of the election throughout today and tonight to see which “leader” becomes the next President of the United States.