Obama Campaigns With One Eye On Hurricane Isaac

President Obama is continuing his two-day campaign tour of college campuses in Iowa, Colorado and Virginia despite Hurricane Isaac. While he's away from the White House, aides say the president is very much in command of the response to the storm.

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The opponent's nominating convention is often a quiet time for a sitting president. President Clinton spent the week on vacation. President George W. Bush spent the week at his ranch. But in an aggressive move, President Obama is campaigning. He's been conducting a campaign tour of college campuses in Iowa, Colorado and Virginia. The longtime White House correspondent Mark Knoller wrote yesterday on Twitter: Attention, college reporters. Your chances of interviewing the president much improved if your school is in a swing state.

Even as he campaigns, President Obama is responding to Hurricane Isaac, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama was a thousand miles inland from the Gulf Coast yesterday on the landlocked campus of Iowa State University, but he couldn't get away from Hurricane Isaac. And not just because the Iowa State football team is nicknamed the Cyclones.



HORSLEY: Hours earlier, the president had gotten an update on Isaac's progress from FEMA, his Homeland Security Secretary, and the leader of the National Hurricane Center. Before he left the White House for Iowa, Mr. Obama went on television, urging residents along the Gulf Coast to heed local instructions.

OBAMA: Now is not the time to tempt fate. Now is not the time to dismiss official warnings. You need to take this seriously.

HORSLEY: The timing and the trajectory of the storm drew obvious comparisons to Hurricane Katrina almost exactly seven years ago - a cautionary tale of what can happen when government fails to respond adequately. Mr. Obama stressed that this time, FEMA crews were pre-positioned with relief supplies. They'd been on the ground for days, he said, coordinating with local counterparts.

White House spokesman Jay Carney says Mr. Obama got another update about the storm preparations by telephone, shortly after his rally at Iowa State.

JAY CARNEY: Obviously the president is president every day. He takes the potential effects of this storm very seriously. And he will be getting briefed on its developments throughout the day and obviously throughout tomorrow.

HORSLEY: This campaign trip had a more serious tone than some of the president's earlier college tours. There was, for example, no spontaneous drop-in at the campus bar. But the rallies themselves went ahead as scheduled, despite the storm. Campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki notes that Republicans went ahead with their national convention in Tampa, and she suggested neither high water nor the GOP would keep the president off the campaign trail.

JEN PSAKI: You know, there are less than 70 days left until the election. We know it's going to be close. And we can't cede time with voters to our opponents.

HORSLEY: The president's message this week is largely aimed at young people, who were a big part of his winning coalition four years ago. Some 6,000 people turned out to see the president at Iowa State University and another 13,000 on the campus of Colorado State University. Mr. Obama emphasized themes designed to resonate with young people, including student aid, same-sex marriage, and the ability of their generation to make a difference in November.

OBAMA: It's going to depend on you to close that gap between what America is and what we know it can be.


HORSLEY: Mr. Obama highlighted some of the big differences that divide the country -on tax policy, energy, and the future of his own health care law. But he also tried to strike a less partisan tone in reaching out to the residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama - three deeply Republican states where the storm was bearing down.

OBAMA: America will be there to help folks recover no matter what this storm brings because when disaster strikes, we're not Democrats first or Republicans first. We are Americans first. We are family.


HORSLEY: Just as presidents get the blame for a botched government response, disasters provide an opportunity for leaders to show what effective government can do and to look presidential, and for a moment at least, above politics.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Fort Collins, Colorado.

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