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Hurricane Irma forces political campaigns to shift gears



In recent years, the Waffle House Index has emerged as an informal way of gauging the damage wrought by severe hurricanes.

So, is there a better bell-weather for a storm's severity. We think there is, at least in an election year: watch the political campaigns.

Based on that measurement, the outlook is grim in Miami, but not yet catastrophic.

With three commission seats available and the mayor's job up for grabs in November, many of Miami's 17 or so declared candidates -- but not all -- say they're suspending their campaigns ahead of Hurricane Irma's expected Friday night arrival.

Many are halting political advertisements sent through the mail. Most are stopping organized campaign activities altogether in order to allow volunteers to take care of themselves and families -- and avoid offending voters.

"I'm definitely staying active with [monitoring] the hurricane, but I'm not worried about campaigning, that's for sure," said Commissioner and mayoral candidate Francis Suarez.

In the race for Miami's District 3 commission seat, representing Little Havana, Tomas N. "Tommy" Regalado, the son of Mayor Tomas Regalado, stopped all mailed campaign material and organized campaigning, according to his campaign manager, Brian Swenson.

"Our focus is on making sure our community remains safe and is ready for this worrisome storm," Swenson said.

Former mayor Joe Carollo, an opponent of Regalado's, said something similar: "This is not the time to be knocking on doors and campaigning. This is serious, what's coming."

Zoraida Barreiro, also in the race, said she visited a senior center Tuesday but has canceled events at apartment complexes over the next several days. She's helping anyone who reaches out to her campaign, but said "I can't campaign [right now] for people to vote for me."

But maybe they're wrong.

District 3 candidate Alfie Leon says his mailers have been stopped and his volunteer team, made up primarily of Florida International University students, is likely out of pocket for the rest of the weekend.

"We think no one wants to be getting something from a campaign [right now] saying "Vote for me. I'm the right guy,'" he said. "But  I'm going to probably campaign today and tomorrow."

Editor's note: Leon decided against canvassing neighborhoods around 11:30 a.m., saying he wanted to make sure everyone had time to prepare for the storm

In the race to claim the District 4 commission seat being vacated by Suarez, two of the three candidates running say they're not halting their campaigns so much as they're shifting them into storm mode. Manuel "Manolo" Reyes, a high school teacher, said he has volunteers hunting for storm supplies like water in the hopes of distributing them to senior centers and other vulnerable residents Thursday, when school is canceled.

Of course, that requires finding supplies.

"We're going to make sure that if this thing hits we try to provide as much supplies as we can," he said.

Ralph Rosado, a competitor, says his campaign has closed down but he's still receiving calls from voters he's reached out to on the trail in order to help them prepare for the storm. He says he's even putting up shutters.

"No shortage of calls for help of one sort or another. It's what I'm here for," he said in a text message.