President Barack Obama, taking a break from his official campaign schedule, stepped into his role as the nation’s consoler as he toured a Louisiana town damaged by flooding from Hurricane Isaac.
“When disasters like this happen we set aside whatever petty disagreements we may have,” Obama told reporters yesterday after visiting St. John the Baptist Parish, about 35 miles north of New Orleans. “Nobody is a Democrat or a Republican. We’re all just Americans looking out for one another.”
Obama walked from house to house along a block lined with ruined furniture stacked on the sidewalk. Stuffed animals, carpeting, drywall and doors were among the debris. He hugged residents, shook hands, posed for photographs and even walked into a home to assess the damage.
“We’re here to help,” Obama told one family.
The president met with Governor Bobby Jindal and Senator David Vitter, both Republicans, as well as Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu and other state and local officials.
As aides insisted there was no intention to politicize the visit, the stop showcased the power of presidential leadership at a time when Obama is sharpening contrasts with his Republican challenger Mitt Romney on the eve of his party’s national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Romney on Aug. 31, one day after accepting his Republican Party’s presidential nomination, scrapped part of his campaign schedule to tour with Jindal an area of Louisiana hit by the hurricane.
To emphasize that Obama’s Louisiana stop was an official White House trip, campaign aides remained on Air Force One and gave Romney credit for not politicizing the disaster. Still, they didn’t shy away from wading into political territory, specifically the debate about the role of federal government in responding to such catastrophes. They pointed out differences between the two candidates’ budget and spending priorities.
“Last year, there was an effort to underfund the money that’s used to provide relief to Americans when they’ve been hit by disasters,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters traveling to New Orleans.
“That effort was led by Congressman Paul Ryan, who’s now running to be vice president” on Romney’s ticket.
As Air Force One approached New Orleans, it flew over the Superdome, a symbol of some of the most searing images from Hurricane Katrina. Thousands of people took refuge in the enclosed stadium and lived under dire conditions due to the extensive damage the 2005 storm caused to the New Orleans area.
“One thing you know about folks in Louisiana, they are resilient. People in Mississippi they are resilient,” Obama said in his statement. “They know what tough times are like but they know that they can bounce back”
Obama earlier yesterday campaigned in Ohio, part of a pre-convention barnstorm of battleground states that also includes Iowa, Colorado and Virginia -- all of which Obama won in 2008 and where he’s locked in tight contests with Romney.
At a Labor Day rally in Toledo, Obama drew attention to Romney’s opposition to the auto-industry rescue. Obama told a crowd of more than 3,000 that his “bet” on America’s auto makers is paying off and that letting “Detroit go bankrupt” would have led to another Great Depression.
“If we had turned our backs on you, if America had thrown in the towel like that, GM and Chrysler wouldn’t exist today,” Obama said, emphasizing that he led the 2009 rescue of General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC.
Gallup polls showed no sign yet that the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, last week provided a bounce in support for Romney. Only 38 percent rated his nomination acceptance speech good or excellent, the lowest favorable response to any of the acceptance speeches Gallup has tested since Republican Bob Dole’s in 1996.
Gallup’s daily tracking poll through Sept. 2 showed the presidential race at 47 percent for Obama to 46 percent for Romney. Obama has held a one-point edge since Aug. 28. The Gallup poll on impressions of the convention was taken Aug. 31 through Sept. 1 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Obama’s aides credit the auto rescue with playing a significant role in Ohio’s job growth and spotlight Romney’s opposition to the bailout to try to hurt the Republican ticket with working-class voters.
Obama peppered his remarks in Ohio with sports terms, countering Romney’s remarks over the weekend that likened the president to a coach who’s had a losing season and should be fired.
“I’ve got one piece of advice for you” about Romney’s “game plan for Ohio -- punt it away, it won’t win the game,” Obama said. “You don’t need that coach.”
Commenting on Obama in Ohio on Sept. 1 Romney said, “If you have a coach that’s zero and 23 million, you say it’s time to get a new coach.” The former Massachusetts governor was referring to the number of unemployed and underemployed in the U.S.
Campaign officials said Obama’s Sept. 6 nomination acceptance speech will stress a different path for the U.S. economy than Romney is proposing. Without mentioning former President George W. Bush by name, Obama has been aligning Romney’s fiscal policies with those of the previous administration, linking them to the worst recession since the Great Depression.
Obama will deliver his speech at the Bank of America stadium in Charlotte, an outdoor sports arena, even as a weather forecast puts the chance of rain at 50 percent, according to his campaign spokesman.
“It will be there rain or shine,” Ben LaBolt, Obama’s spokesman, told reporters yesterday in Charlotte.
First lady Michelle Obama arrived in Charlotte yesterday and will give a convention speech after 10 p.m. tonight.
Romney and his wife, Ann, spent the holiday at their vacation home on Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.
Romney’s campaign responded to the attacks from the Obama camp by sounding its main message -- that American’s aren’t better off than they were four years ago -- and said the middle class has fared worse under the president.
“The Obama campaign now has a clear message for Americans - you’re doing well, you just don’t know it,” said Amanda Henneberg, a Romney campaign spokeswoman.
The Republican National Committee started its “Obama Isn’t Working” rapid response center in Charlotte with a website and daily news conference “highlighting how America is not better off under president Obama.”
“The president is going to be on defense, desperately trying to paper over the dismal record and make struggling Americans forget about their problems,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told reporters.