Tragedy gave Obama, Romney chance to impress voters by not campaigning

Scott McIntyre/Staff 
 While the crowd waits for President Barack Obama to speak at Harborside Convention Center in Fort Myers, a young patron carries a gold balloon on Friday July 20, 2012.

Photo by SCOTT MCINTYRE, Scott McIntyre // Buy this photo

Scott McIntyre/Staff While the crowd waits for President Barack Obama to speak at Harborside Convention Center in Fort Myers, a young patron carries a gold balloon on Friday July 20, 2012.

President Obama speaks in Fort Myers

Obama addresses movie theater massacre.

— The plan was to rally supporters, woo independents and, in the case of President Barack Obama, maybe even convince a Republican or two to vote for a Democrat come November.

But an early morning shooting in Colorado on Friday changed all that. Both Obama — who was scheduled to hold campaign events in Fort Myers and Orlando on Friday — and Republican opponent Mitt Romney put electioneering on the back burner and used previously scheduled campaign stops as a chance to address the nation on the day's events.

Come Election Day, political analysts said, that decision may prove to be just as powerful as a standard stump speech.

"When there's a national tragedy, like what took place (Friday), it freezes political campaigns and the national focus shifts to the victims," said Peter Bergerson, a political science professor at Florida Gulf Coast University in Estero. "The public doesn't want to see candidates campaigning in the midst of a tragedy. And at this stage, it would look pretty unseemly to try to campaign and have a campaign message with this dominating the news."

The president was in Fort Myers on Friday as part of a two-day campaign swing through Florida. He was scheduled to take the stage around 11:30 a.m. to discuss the economy, jobs and how to pay down the debt.

Instead, at 10:45 a.m., just hours after a masked gunman barged into a crowded Denver-area movie theater and opened fire, killing 12 people and injuring 59, Obama took to the stage and spoke for about seven minutes before returning to the White House.

An afternoon campaign event in Winter Park was canceled.

"There are going to be other days for politics," Obama told the crowd in Fort Myers. "This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection."

Romney's appearance in New Hampshire mirrored that of Obama's. The presumptive Republican nominee took to the stage and told supporters that justice will come, and called for Americans to focus on loving each other and those affected by what he called "a few moments of evil."

"Each one of us will hold our kids a little closer," Romney said, "I stand before you today not as a man running for office, but as a father and grandfather, a husband, an American."

And while both Obama and Romney suspended their campaigns for the day, some people wondered why the Fort Myers event went ahead, given the morning's news.

Naples resident Nancy Vaine said she was excited to catch a glimpse of the commander in chief, but was surprised he showed at all.

"The needs of the country come first," she said.

Bergerson said it's hard to speculate why the president chose to make his remarks in Fort Myers rather than at the White House, but it likely all comes down to timing.

"You can apply some political application, but it was probably more of a timing issue," Bergerson said. "He could get his (statement) out and have it out as immediately as possible."

Still, John Knowles, an elections expert and Ave Maria School of Law spokesman, said the decision could have a lasting effect on Southwest Floridians.

"It has the ancillary benefit of raising people's opinion of him," he said. "He came to Florida as a candidate for the president of United States, but because of significant events that were occurring, he had to be the president of the United States."

That was exactly what Cape Coral resident Lori Rheaume hoped to see Friday.

"We need to rally around him in this tragedy," she said.

Rheaume said she and her 10-year-old daughter, Katie, were disappointed with the quick visit, but understood he was just doing his job.

"I think this is a moment that Americans should be very proud of," Knowles said. "The (candidates) understand there's more than just appealing for votes."

__ Staff writer Katherine Albers and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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