McCain Tours New Orleans' Ninth Ward

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Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain travels to New Orleans' lower Ninth Ward — the area hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — during his "It's Time for Action Tour."

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

John McCain took a walk today through the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. He criticized the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, but not President Bush directly. McCain said, had he been president during the storm, he would have flown to the nearest Air Force base and directed the emergency response.

NPR's Jeff Brady has our story from New Orleans.

JEFF BRADY: John McCain's shiny black bus, dubbed the Straight Talk Express, would have looked out of place in the Lower Ninth Ward even before the 2005 hurricane. But with empty lots, overgrown weeds, and destroyed houses still sitting empty, it looked especially shiny.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona, Presidential Candidate): If you said I need one thing more than anything else, what is it?

Unidentified Woman: Housing.

Unidentified Man: Housing.

Unidentified Woman: We need housing.

BRADY: All this week, McCain is visiting largely Democratic communities that have been hit hard economically as part of what his campaign calls the It's Time for Action Tour. Today, it was New Orleans.

Sen. McCAIN: Never again will a disaster at this nature be handled in the terrible and disgraceful way that it was handled. Never again.

BRADY: McCain told that crowd gathered outside a small Catholic church that if he'd been president, the federal response to Hurricane Katrina would have been better.

Sen. McCAIN: I think everybody knows how it was a failure. There was unqualified people in charge, there was a total misreading of the dimensions of the disaster. There was a failure of communications.

BRADY: Residents here seem more concerned about the future, though. Louella Pickney(ph) got a surprise visit from Senator McCain and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

Ms. LOUELLA PICKNEY (Resident, New Orleans): He just wanted to know how was I doing and welcome back home, and looked like you're glad to be back home and everything.

BRADY: So did you ask him any questions?

Ms. PICKNEY: No, I didn't get a chance. They looked like they was on a hurry.

BRADY: Pickney says health care is her main concern. Last year, she had a stroke and now her left arm and leg are nearly useless. Just down the street, Gayle Brandon(ph) says the economy is a big issue for her in the presidential election.

Ms. GAYLE BRANDON (Resident, New Orleans): High food prices, gasoline prices, yet still, we're angry. We're angry because we're spending a trillion dollars to rebuild Iraq, fighting that war.

BRADY: Brandon says strengthening the levees is important, too. McCain said he'd push the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stick to its plan of building levees by 2011 that will withstand a 100-year flood. This neighborhood votes for Democrats. In 2004, Orleans Parish picked John Kerry over George Bush by a nearly 4-to-1 margin. Why would McCain spend a campaign day here? O.C. Coleman seemed at a lost to fully answer that. He's a local minister and a member of the Orleans Parish Republic and Executive Committee.

Bishop O.C. COLEMAN (Minister, Greater Light Ministries; Member, Orleans Parish Republic and Executive Committee): At least to show a presence that McCain's camp is going to areas that they normally wouldn't go to.

BRADY: A spokeswoman with the McCain campaign said he also wants to burnish his economic credentials.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, New Orleans.

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