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Obama seeks votes as complaints mount over storm response

- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 3, 2012

MENTOR, Ohio — Facing questions about his campaigning for re-election while millions of Americans still await government relief efforts from superstorm Sandy, President Obama said Saturday that one of the disaster's positive results was "leaders of different political parties working together to fix what's broken."

"It's a spirit that says, 'We're all in this together,' " Mr. Obama told about 4,000 supporters in a high-school gym in northeast Ohio. "We rise and fall as one nation and one people."

The president then pivoted quickly to his partisan stump speech, attacking Republican rival Mitt Romney for pursuing "top-down economics" for the wealthy and billing himself as the true agent of change in the election on Tuesday.

"We tried their ideas, and they don't work," Mr. Obama said of the GOP. "You know I'll fight for you and your families every single day. It's time to keep pushing forward."

The president told supporters to take their friends and neighbors to vote in three days. "Make sure they vote for me before you drag them to the polls," he said.

Some critics are accusing Mr. Obama and other government officials of praising storm relief efforts too soon.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, on Saturday urged the White House and state leaders in the Northeast dealing with the recovery to "stop declaring victory, stop giving speeches" and focus on helping victims of the storm.

Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki, defending the president's full campaign schedule amid the post-storm suffering on the East Coast, told reporters that Mr. Obama is "losing his voice a little bit out on the campaign trail" because he is talking on the phone constantly with state and local officials between rallies where he stumps for votes.

"In between every single event, he basically walks off the stage, gets on a phone call with governors, mayors and first-responders," Ms. Psaki said. "Just from being backstage, that's what he's doing every single moment. He's focused on it every minute he's not on the stage."

The president also was losing his voice from round-the-clock campaigning in the days before the storm hit the United States. Mr. Romney also has been campaigning full-time since taking a day off to support relief efforts on Tuesday.

Before leaving Washington Saturday morning for a full day of campaigning, Mr. Obama received a briefing at FEMA headquarters on the recovery efforts from the massive storm and said the hardest-hit states "still have a long way to go."

FEMA administrator W. Craig Fugate and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Mr. Obama about efforts in New York, New Jersey and elsewhere to restore power, pump water out of flooded homes and businesses, care for people who lost their homes, remove debris and get National Guard in place. The president said relief workers are putting in "120 percent" effort.

"We don't have patience for bureaucracy," Mr. Obama told reporters. "We don't have patience for red tape. It is a painstaking process, but we are making progress."

Since the storm struck last weekend, millions of residents have gone without electricity, gasoline shortages have hit the metropolitan New York City region, and complaints have risen about the slow pace of aid reaching areas such as Staten Island, N.Y., and the New Jersey coast. The clamor for help has increased, after state officials such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie initially praised the president's quick response to oversee recovery efforts.

"Obviously we have now seen that after the initial search and rescue that the recovery process is difficult, it's painful," Mr. Obama said. "But I'm confident that we will continue to make progress as long as state and local and federal officials stay focused. There is nothing more important than us getting this right."

Mr. Obama spent a little more than an hour Saturday morning in the briefing, which included video conferences with the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and several mayors. He said "we're starting to shift" people from shelters in the affected areas to temporary housing.

The president said helping people recover from the storm is his "number one priority." Reporters asked about the frustration of residents in places such as Staten Island, but Mr. Obama did not respond to their questions.

The president also campaigned Saturday in Milwaukee, Wis., Dubuque, Iowa, and finally at a late-night rally in Bristow, Va., with former President Bill Clinton and musician Dave Matthews.

Mr. Clinton, speaking to the crowd of about 24,000 at the Jiffy Lube Live amphitheater, poked fun at Mr. Romney for avoiding taking stands on various issues.

He said Mr. Romney "has tied himself in so many knots … he could be hired as the chief contortionist for Cirque de Soleil."

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