Obama tours N.J.; Romney back on trail

Oct. 31, 2012 at 5:18 PM
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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J., Oct. 31 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama went to New Jersey Wednesday to survey damage caused by Hurricane Sandy while Republican nominee Mitt Romney campaigned in Florida.

The president held a briefing in Washington early Wednesday with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate before both men left Washington for New Jersey where they were greeted by Gov. Chris Christie.

Obama, Fugate and Christie took an aerial tour aboard the presidential helicopter Marine One of areas damaged by the storm. They then went by motorcade to Brigantine, an island northeast of Atlantic City.

At the end of the visit, Obama said: "We are here for you and we will not forget. We will follow up to make sure that you get all the help you need until you rebuild."

Christie -- who has been criticized by fellow Republicans for praising Obama's handling of the disaster -- thanked Obama Wednesday for his "personal concern" for New Jersey and said, "We will get up and we will get this thing rebuilt."

Christie said New Jersey's "challenge now is to get back to normalcy" and he once again expressed gratitude to Obama for the administration's response to the disaster.

"I'm pleased to report that he has sprung into action immediately ... while we were riding in the car together."

Obama's tour of New Jersey came as megastorm Sandy headed toward Canada after being blamed for more than 40 deaths and causing widespread damage in the U.S. mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

Obama earlier told a group of residents gathered at a community center in Brigantine Christie "is working overtime to make sure that as soon as possible everybody can get back to normal."

"Hopefully if your homes aren't too badly damaged we can get the power back on and get you back in. For those of you whose homes are damaged, we've also got Director Fugate of FEMA and one of the things we're going to do is to activate and make sure you guys are getting the help you need as quickly as possible," he said.

"I just want to tell all of you exactly what the president just said, I know he means it," Christie said. "We took a whole tour of the coast. He got a chance to see the destruction along the coast of New Jersey and we've been working with Director Fugate here to make sure that we need the things we need to get here. This state is working hard too. You know we're working hard. I want to thank the president for coming here today. It's really important to have the president of the United States acknowledge all the suffering that's going on here in New Jersey and I appreciate it very much. We're going to work together to make sure we get ourselves through this crisis and get everything back to normal. Thank you for coming, sir."

Before leaving the campaign trail to return to the White House to deal with the storm's aftermath, Obama made a closing argument about trust, noting in Florida last week he has earned voters' trust and raising the question of which candidate could be relied upon if "something unexpected happens."

During the flight aboard Air Force One, White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to talk about the political implications of the visit but he said Obama appreciates the efforts of governors and local officials "regardless of political party."

"This is a time to focus on what was a devastating storm and the terrible aftermath of that storm," Carney said. "New Jersey was by many measures the hardest-hit state, I believe that's correct. It is entirely appropriate for the president to visit New Jersey and receive updates on the efforts there to recover and to view firsthand the damage inflicted by Sandy. This is not a time for politics."

He said the White House was careful to be sure the inspection tour would not require local officials to use "resources that would otherwise be used in recovery efforts." He said the president would not be visiting Manhattan because of "that very resource allocation issue."

Carney told reporters Obama had spoken by telephone with New York University-Langone Medical Center Dean Dr. Robert Grossman and Chief Nursing Officer Dr. Kimberly Glassman officials to thank them for the efforts of doctors and nurses in evacuating more than 200 patients during the storm.

The visit to New Jersey was expected to take about three hours. In addition to demonstrating concern for the victims, the Obama camp expects the trip to yield photo opportunities showing a decisive chief executive and a contrast to Republican challenger Mitt Romney's campaign appearances.

Although Romney canceled some campaign appearances, he was in Ohio Tuesday for a rally that the campaign characterized as a relief effort.

The Buzzfeed website, citing a campaign staffer, reported Wednesday Romney campaign aides -- concerned that the last-minute decision to transform the campaign event into a storm-relief effort -- went to a Walmart Monday night and bought $5,000 worth of merchandise including granola bars, canned food and diapers to display in a collection area while waiting for donations to begin at the come in Tuesday.

Romney was back on the campaign trail Wednesday for three stops in Florida.

At his first stop, in Tampa, Romney urged supporters to help hurricane victims and then moved on to the standard topics of his campaign speeches, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

During an appearance in Coral Gables, Romney said he has a plan "to get this economy going."

Romney said 23 million Americans are "struggling to get a good job" and one American in six is living in poverty -- and told his audience "we should not continue along the same path but it's time to take a new path of bold, aggressive change because the road we're on is not doing so well."

During a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Romney campaign senior adviser Russ Schriefer said: "We believe that Mitt Romney will be the next president of the United States. We believe that we are in a very good place and the campaign is where we expected to be."

Schriefer said the election is a change election and Romney -- who will emphasize the theme that "we can't afford four more years like the last four years" -- is the change candidate for voters who want something different from what we've seen over the last four years."

"We think that we're going to have a big victory next Tuesday," he said.

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