Obama to offer comfort after Colorado shooting
Jul 22, 2:54 PM (ET)
By JULIE PACE
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama dashed to Colorado on Sunday to meet with families of those gunned down in a movie theater and to hear from state and local officials about the shooting that left 12 people dead and dozens more injured.
Air Force One was to touch down in Aurora late Sunday afternoon at Buckley Air Force Base for the president's hastily arranged 2 1/2 hour visit, which would include a private meeting with the victims' loved ones and perhaps a public comment about the shooting early Friday morning at a busy multiplex.
For Obama, it was another unhappy occasion for him to serve as national consoler in chief, a role that has become a crucial facet of the presidency. National tragedies can present an opportunity for presidents to show leadership and rise above partisan politics, as with President Bill Clinton and the Oklahoma City bombing and President George W. Bush and the Sept. 11 attacks.
But in moments of sorrow, presidents can risk looking detached and out of touch. Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina is an often-sighted example.
"These families need that kind of contact by our elected leader," said the Aurora police chief, Dan Oates. "It will be very powerful and it will help them. As awful as what they've been through and what they're going through has been having the president here is very, very powerful, it means a great deal to them and all of Aurora," he told CBS'"Face the Nation."
"I think the president coming in is a wonderful gesture," said Aurora's mayor, Steve Hogan. "He's coming in, really, to have private conversations with the families. I think that's totally appropriate." Hogan told ABC's "This Week" that it "certainly means a lot to Aurora to know that the president cares."
Obama already had been a frequent election-year visitor to Colorado, which he won by more than 8 percentage points over Republican John McCain four years ago. But neither Obama's nor GOP challenger Mitt Romney's camp expects that big a margin this time. Recent polls place Obama's lead inside the margin of error.
The shock of the mass shooting brought the presidential campaign to a standstill for the weekend.
"This weekend I hope everyone takes some time for prayer and reflection," Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address, "for the victims of this terrible tragedy, for the people who knew them and loved them, for those who are still struggling to recover."
But the election activities were to resume on Monday.
From Colorado, Obama was to fly to San Francisco to start a previously scheduled three-day campaign trip that includes a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Reno, Nev., fundraisers in California, Oregon and Washington state, and a speech to the National Urban League convention in New Orleans.
Vice President Joe Biden was to speak to the National Association of Police Organizations in Palm Beach County, Fla., on Monday. Romney is to address the VFW on Tuesday.
The task of articulating sorrow and loss has become a familiar one for Obama.
Not 10 months in office, he led mourners at a service for victims of the November 2009 shooting at Texas' Fort Hood. Last January, he spoke at a memorial for the six victims killed in Tucson, Ariz., when a gunman attacked Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as she met with constituents.
The following April, when some 300 people were killed in a multi-state series of tornadoes, Obama flew to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to commiserate with residents whose homes were in ruins. A month later, Obama went to Joplin, Mo., after a monster twister claimed 161 lives. This year, he came back on the storm's anniversary to give a commencement speech at Joplin High School.
Associated Press writer Mark Smith in Washington contributed to this report.
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