Romney arrives in Louisiana for storm visit

By Kasie Hunt

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Aug. 31 2012 3:12 p.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney waves as he arrives for a campaign stop, Friday, Aug. 31, 2012, in Lakeland, Fla.

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

JEAN LAFITTE, La. — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney detoured to hurricane-damaged Louisiana on Friday as he campaigned his way out of the Republican National Convention on the final leg of his quest for the White House, touring a flooded community and saying he hoped his visit would focus public attention on victims' needs.

The former Massachusetts governor's inaugural flight on his logo-plastered campaign plane touched down Friday afternoon to visit an emergency command center in Jean Lafitte, La., where emergency crews were helping victims of Hurricane Isaac. The storm brought severe flooding to the area earlier in the week before it was downgraded to a tropical storm.

Romney met along a highway with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and they talked about some of the challenges facing the stricken area, which relies on fishing for its livelihood.

"I'm here to learn and obviously to draw some attention to what's going on here," Romney told the governor. "So that people around the country know that people down here need help."

Jindal talked about the contributions of the Red Cross, Salvation Army and other organizations. Romney inquired how many people had been evacuated and asked, "Did the water come from the sky, or the rivers, or the ocean?"

Reporters could not hear the entire conversation.

Romney's motorcade, consisting of trucks equipped to drive through high water, moved slowly down Jean Lafitte Bouldevard. Accompanied by National Guard vehicles, the caravan inched through water that at some points was a foot or more deep, submerging gas stations, flooding homes and covering front laws. Residents stood in the water and watched Romney's motorcade pass.

At one point, Romney and Jindal stopped and talked to a man in waders, a straw hat and holding a neon yellow "Mitt Is Our Man" handwritten sign. There was no immediate word on what was said.

President Barack Obama was following with his own visit to Louisiana on Monday, the White House announced.

Hurricane Isaac had threatened the coast of Florida, delaying Romney's nominating convention by a day. It ended up missing Florida and instead hanging over Mississippi and Louisiana as a Category 1 and then a tropical storm, drenching the Gulf Coast with rain. The storm hit almost exactly 7 years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, and convention organizers had been acutely aware of the optics of carrying on a celebration while people suffered a few states away.

The storm was blamed for at least six deaths in Louisiana and Mississippi. It submerged hundreds of homes, forced thousands of others to evacuate and cut power to nearly half of Louisiana's homes and businesses.

Romney's trip to Louisiana, announced less than 12 hours after he accepted the GOP presidential nomination, came at Jindal's invitation, the campaign said. Jindal, a Republican, told reporters Romney had been in touch several days ago to ask how he could help with storm relief, and Jindal suggested Romney come down and see the damage for himself.

He said he had extended an invitation to Obama as well.

"The president of the United States is always welcome in our state," Jindal said. "We're thrilled that Gov. Romney's coming today. We're thrilled that the president's coming on Monday. We welcome them both."

Jindal insisted that while both Obama and Romney are locked in a tight race for the White House, he would stay focused on the storm's aftermath.

"We're not talking politics. That's not the right time to do that. We're solely focused on the hurricane and the response," he said.

That, however, did not stop Democrats from accusing Republicans of supporting cuts in federal disaster funding that the Gulf Coast will now need to recover from Isaac.

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