Romney changes schedule, visits Louisiana storm damage

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KENNER, La. — Fresh off accepting the GOP presidential nod, Mitt Romney took on more of a presidential posture Friday, reworking his schedule so he could fly to Louisiana to survey the damage from Isaac — beating President Obama to the punch.

The former Massachusetts governor met with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sen. David Vitter - both fellow Republicans - and thanked first responders in nearby Jean LaFitte, La., parts of which remain under several feet of water from the storm.

“I’m here to learn and obviously to draw some attention to what’s going here,” Mr. Romney told Mr. Jindal. “So that people around the country know that people done here need help.”

Mr. Obama, meanwhile, made an official appearance at Fort Bliss, Texas, where opened his remarks by saying this thoughts and prayers were with those who were in the path of the storm and assuring the audience that he has directed the federal government to “keep doing everything that it can to help.” 

The White House also announced that Mr. Obama would tour the damage caused to the area on Monday and press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that the president planned to travel to the region before Mr. Romney made his move.

Hurricane Isaac landed in the area almost two years to the day that Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. This time New Orleans avoided the same levels of damage, though 800,000 people lost power and the city’s surrounding suburbs bared the brunt of the storm.

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said that Mr. Romney visit to the area, was the hypocritical because the House Republicans spending plan that Mr. Romney and his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan supported would have cut disaster relief spending.

“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,”Mr. Reid said. 

Stuart Stevens, a top Romney adviser, shrugged off the attacks. “I don’t understand why it would be inappropriate,” he said of the visit. “It is not a political thing.”

The trip, though, didn’t go off with a hitch, as one of the vans carrying press rear-ended another van carry staff - though no one was injured in the fender bender.

Mr. Romney was originally scheduled to take a three-state battleground campaign swing that would have taken him from here to Virginia and then to Ohio.

But before his appearance here, the Romney campaign announced that he would instead deploy Mr. Ryan to the event in Virginia. 

Mitt right now is in Louisiana meeting with victims of the hurricane, bringing attention to those who are in Isaac’s path so that we can make sure that people send their prayers and their dollars to the Red Cross and the charities because there are people there that need our help,” Mr. Ryan said.

The Romney camp had hoped for a bounce in the polls following the Republican National Convention in Tampa, where he worked to demystify his Mormon faith, opened up about his family life and slammed home the message that voters cannot say they are better off today than they were when President Obama entered office in 2009.

Mr. Stevens, though, found himself fielding more questions from reporters Friday about whether the biggest political moment of his life had been trampled on by Clint Eastwood’s performance at the GOP convention. 

The Hollywood actor entertained the crowd with ad-libbing performance, where he talked to an empty chair - pretending that President Obama was sitting in it. 

“It was improv,” Mr. Stevens said, adding that backstage that Mr. Romney was laughing. “He enjoyed it.”

Others had a different take. In appearance on  MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a rising star in the party, said that he “cringed” during Mr. Eastwood’s appearance.

“You hear some of his [Romney‘s] opponents [saying] how he’s a robot, he’s mechanical — no, he’s just a private person who does amazing things and we saw some of that last night. I just wish, frankly, I would have rather seen that than Clint Eastwood during the prime time,” Mr. Walker said.

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