Did Hurricane Sandy deal a crippling blow to the Mitt Romney campaign?

“If you hadn’t had the storm,” said Karl Rove, “there would have been more of a chance for the Romney campaign to talk about the deficit, the debt, the economy.”

Bill O’Reilly agreed that the weather helped President Barack Obama: “That image of Hurricane Sandy overrode the Libya story . . . he got more positive currency out of Sandy than negative currency on Libya.”

Rush Limbaugh even hinted at a conspiracy: “I’ll tell you something, that whole Sandy narrative, that it helped Obama. Who started that? It wasn’t our guys. That was the media that started that, kept hoping and praying that Sandy would give Obama -- but they knew last week that Obama needed a boost.”

Many Democrats have dismissed this as so much whining. “Republicans have already found their scapegoat: Hurricane Sandy,” wrote Sahil Kapur at Talking Points Memo. “The argument misstates the timing of the Romney surge. While the first presidential debate early October led to an unquestionable polling swing in Romney’s favor, scores of national surveys showed the race stabilizing by mid-October, well before the storm hit.”

Others speculated that the storm should actually have aided the Republican side of the wealth gap. “A certain amount of bad weather on election day helps conservatives in every democracy,” noted the Financial Times’s Lex column. “In crude terms, car-driving conservative retirees still turn out in driving rain, when bus-taking lower-income workers just back from a night shift are more likely to give rain-soaked polls a miss.”

So what really happened? A clue can be found in a Politico story inexplicably headlined “Exit polls 2012: Hurricane Sandy not a factor.” According to CBS News’s exit polling, Emily Schultheis reported, “26 percent named Sandy as an ’important’ factor, and 15 percent said it was the ’most important’ factor in their decision.” That was early exit polling, but if it holds, it’s hard to say the storm wasn’t a factor.

And at least one member of the East Coast media establishment has some sympathy for the challenger. “If Sandy didn’t cost Romney the election, it may well have cost him his last shot of winning,” wrote the New Yorker’s John Cassidy. “At the very moment he needed to appeal to undecided voters and make up ground in places like Iowa and Ohio, the storm knocked him off out of the headlines and robbed his campaign of any momentum it may have had.”

(Tobin Harshaw writes editorials on national security for Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter.)

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