Charles Dharapak, Associated Press
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The deadly shooting spree in Colorado consumed the presidential campaign Friday, sidetracking a bitter political contest with a tragedy that at least temporarily brought the candidates together in common purpose.
"There are going to be other days for politics," a somber President Barack Obama said.
The president and likely Republican challenger Mitt Romney rushed not only to respond to the killings but to distance themselves from a campaign that has become increasingly petty and bitter. Obama limited his campaign appearance in Fort Myers to remarks of less than eight minutes, devoted exclusively to the tragedy.
"It reminds us of all the ways that we are united as one American family," he said. He paused at one point to ask for a moment of prayer that lasted 20 seconds. A baby's cries pierced the silence.
Romney embraced the same sentiment of unity in Bow, N.H., where he had been scheduled to campaign.
"We'll all spend a little less time thinking about the worries of our day and more time wondering about how to help those who are in need of compassion most," he said in brief remarks to a subdued audience. "The answer is that we can come together. We will show our fellow citizens the good heart of the America we know and love.
Obama canceled a second appearance scheduled near Orlando, Fla., and was returning to Washington. Romney, too, canceled some media interviews. Both candidates moved to pull all their political ads airing in Colorado, and they cancelled appearances by their surrogates on the Sunday morning television talk shows.
Obama was notified at dawn at his hotel near West Palm Beach, Fla., by his counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan. The White House said there was no apparent connection to terrorism.
Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and top White House aides were to receive a briefing on the investigation from Brennan and FBI Director Robert Mueller in the Oval Office Friday afternoon, upon Obama's return from Florida.
"Our time here is limited, and it is precious," Obama told supporters in Fort Myers. "What matters at the end of the day is not the small things. It's not the trivial things which consume us and our daily lives. Ultimately, it's how we choose to treat one another, and how we love one another. It's what we do on a daily basis to give our lives meaning and to give our lives purpose."
Romney said he joined the president and first lady in extending condolences "for those whose lives were shattered in a few moments, a few moments of evil in Colorado."
"I stand before you today not as a man running for office, but as a father and a grandfather, a husband, an American," he added. "This is a time for each of us to look into our hearts and remember how much we love one another and how much we love, and how much we care for our great country. There's so much love and goodness in the heart of America."
For Romney, the tragedy was a moment to express himself as a national consoler, a sad and grim task every president in recent decades has had to play.
"Today we feel not only a sense of grief but perhaps also of helplessness," he said. "But there is something we can do. We can offer comfort to someone near us who is suffering or heavy laden. And we can mourn with those who mourn in Colorado."
The assault apparently by one shooter killed 12 people and injured at least 50 others in one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history.
The enormity and horror of the incident immediately injected a new tone to the campaign, essentially demanding that both candidates for the time halt politics and attend to the nation's shock at the tragedy.
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