Katrina's Aftermath Could Bring Political Storms

"I think the pictures of him over the weekend in the devastated South [and] the sort of statements he will issue will have some sort of immediate political gain," Hess said. "He's doing one of the things that presidents do, which is be a sympathizer, caring for the afflicted."

John Maginnis, a syndicated columnist on Louisiana politics, said Bush's initial speeches were received well.

"The people needed to see that -- that President Bush and the rest of the country saw this as an outside disaster and there's going to be a response," he said.

Another possible benefit for Bush, if he handles the hurricane well: In the short term, wall-to-wall coverage of the hurricane story may distract people from Bush's other problems, like Iraq, Hess said.

"Then, it will become obvious, as it always does in these things, that government can only do so much, can only move so fast," Hess said of the hurricane relief effort. "The downside probably, in the long run, exceeds the upside."

Local Backlash?

If there's a similar downside for local officials, it might hit Democrats hard.

"New Orleans is the bluest area of the red state," Maginnis said. "If you had an election tomorrow, you wouldn't have many people even able to vote in New Orleans."

Democratic New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was an overwhelming favorite in a February election, Maginiss said. Blanco would face re-election in the fall of 2007, and Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in the fall of 2008.

"I think state officials will also incur some fallout after the rally-around-the-flag effect dissipates," Cross said. "That fallout will center around their lack of preparation for a disaster like this. Though no one can be expected to prepare adequately for a disaster like this, it did happen on their watch."

Cross added that movement of people out of New Orleans may distort demographics in the state's politically gerrymandered election districts, potentially jeopardizing incumbent congressmen and state legislators used to coasting to re-election.

"I would say that this incident has the power to speed the process of Louisiana becoming Republican," Cross added, "particularly if Republican office holders like Sen. [David] Vitter [and] President Bush respond positively to the crisis."

Faith-Based Help?

On the other hand, Harvard's King said the disaster may prove to be so vast that it could test what he sees as the region's disdain for federal and state government assistance.

"This is absolutely the belt buckle of the Bible Belt," he said. "It's right there, where there's an expectation that people will pull themselves up by the bootstraps and where their churches, not the government, will come to their assistance. That will be severely tested because a lot of the churches have been swept away."

But Ron Rychlak, a professor and associate dean at the University of Mississippi School of Law in Oxford, Miss., was skeptical that the region would have any qualms about accepting federal help after such a disaster, and similarly skeptical of King's theory that locals would be unable to help.

"There's [displaced] folks living in property next door to me; there's all kinds of individual efforts that are going on," Rychlak said. "If there's a regional difference, I think the difference is that no one expects the people in Washington to be able to wave a magic wand and fix things. … We'll have to roll up our sleeves and help ourselves."

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