A day after accepting the Republican presidential nomination with a vow to curtail federal spending, Mitt Romney waded into a debate over the role of the federal government in preventing and responding to disasters with a visit to a hurricane-flooded area of Louisiana.
Romney scrapped part of his campaign schedule yesterday to join the state’s Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, in touring a town outside New Orleans that is beyond the reach of a $14.5 billion levee system built by the federal government after Hurricane Katrina. The community was flooded from storm surges created by Hurricane Isaac.
“I’m here to learn and obviously to draw some attention to what’s going on here, so that people around the country know that people down here need help,” Romney told Jindal before starting his tour of Jean Lafitte, Louisiana.
Riding in a sport-utility vehicle through storm-soaked streets, Romney saw houses and cars partially submerged in greenish-brown water and stopped to talk with residents coping with storm damage as well as the first responders helping them.
“He said that he was going to do the best that he could for us,” said Jodie Chiarello, a 42-year-old grocery store worker who told Romney that the storm surge had cost her everything, leaving her home immersed in 12 feet of water.
Democrats lost little time in accusing Romney of seeking to profit politically from the storm while pushing an agenda that would end the very emergency disaster aid its victims depend on. Romney’s vice presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman who is the architect of Republicans’ fiscal blueprint, has proposed ending emergency disaster aid.
“It is the height of hypocrisy for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to make a pretense of showing sympathy for the victims of Hurricane Isaac when their policies would leave those affected by this disaster stranded and on their own,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said in a statement.
While Jindal is a critic of federal spending, he has faulted President Barack Obama for failing to provide enough funding to cover the costs of storm response, and called in an Aug. 30 news conference for extending the flood-protection system to lower-lying areas. As the two met yesterday, Jindal explained to Romney that while the levees protecting New Orleans “performed well,” they didn’t extend to low-lying areas.
As his motorcade crawled through Jean Lafitte, Romney heard from a resident angry that the levees, floodgates and sea walls didn’t protect his town. A flooded house with a giant sign out front read, “Where is our levee protection.”
While the nominee didn’t say so during his visit, his campaign indicated later that he backs Jindal’s request for more extensive levees. Rick Gorka, a spokesman, said Romney “recognizes the importance of disaster prevention and would seek to ensure that we have the infrastructure we need to keep all Americans safe.”
Obama, who addressed military personnel today at Fort Bliss, Texas, plans to stop in Louisiana on Sept. 3, said Jay Carney, his spokesman. Returning to Washington aboard Air Force One, Obama spoke to Louisiana and Mississippi officials to update on the administration’s efforts to help their communities and assured them they were in his thoughts and prayers, the White House said in a statement
Romney made his trip after the Aug. 30 close of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, where he formally accepted the party’s nod with a speech that made a direct appeal to voters disaffected with Obama and aimed at countering Democratic accusations that he is out of touch with the lives of most Americans.
Romney and running mate Ryan campaign together today in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Jacksonville, Florida. After Romney’s hastily arranged stop in Louisiana, Ryan attended what was supposed to be a joint rally in Richmond, Virginia, on his own.
Hurricane Isaac made landfall in southeast Louisiana and its impact was felt along the Gulf of Mexico coast, including Tampa, where Republicans condensed their national convention to three days from four. The storm briefly threatened to drown out Romney’s message and derail his celebration with the potential to deal a crushing blow to New Orleans reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The storm never gained Katrina’s strength when it reached the coast on Aug. 28, allowing Republicans to keep the spotlight on Romney.
Dreams and Disappointments
In his acceptance speech, Romney sought to identify with the dreams and disappointments of U.S. voters amid unemployment that’s stuck above 8 percent, presenting himself as a unifying figure with the expertise to create jobs and heal partisan rifts. He tailored part of his remarks to win the votes of women with stories of how his mother and wife had shaped his life, saying their struggles were often harder than those faced by men and that he would be a president who “understands what they do.”
Romney used personal details, including an allusion to his Mormon faith, to offer himself as an alternative to Obama.
“‘Hope and change’ had a powerful appeal,” Romney, the 65-year-old former Massachusetts governor, said, invoking Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan. “But tonight I’d ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama?”
“You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him,” he added.
Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager said the Republican nominee had “failed to make the case for a Romney presidency.
“He topped off the Romney reinvention with yet another night of personal attacks and gauzy platitudes but no real tangible ideas to move our country forward,” Cutter said in a conference call.
Obama’s top strategist, David Axelrod, said the president is working on a speech that will “reflect the thinking of a leader who has great confidence in this country and a clear sense of what we need to do to continue to repair the damage that was done by the recession, and to reclaim the economic security that so many Americans have lost.”