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His presidential nomination officially in hand, Republican Mitt Romney scrapped part of his campaign schedule and instead toured hurricane-damaged parts of Louisiana, telling displaced residents to seek help from state and local agencies offering relief services.
Romney joined Bobby Jindal, the state’s Republican governor, on a visit to an area outside New Orleans -- and beyond the reach of flood protection measures erected by the federal government in the wake of Hurricane Katrina -- that was flooded from storm surges created by Hurricane Isaac.
“I’m here to learn and obviously to draw some attention to what’s going on here, so that people around the country know that people down here need help,” Romney told Jindal before starting his tour of Jean Lafitte, Louisiana. Riding in a sport- utility vehicle through storm-soaked streets, Romney saw houses and cars partially submerged by greenish-brown water and stopped to talk with residents coping with damage as well as the first responders helping them.
Romney shook hands with 42-year-old grocery store worker Jodie Chiarello -- barefoot outside the local post office -- who said she “lost everything” when her home was immersed in 12 feet of water.
The Republican presidential nominee “was caring,” said Chiarello, a Republican who said she will “probably” vote for Romney. “He’s good, he’ll do the best for us. He has our best interests at heart.” Chiarello said Romney, hearing of her plight, told her to dial 211 -- a referral line that links callers in need to government and community services.
“He said that he was going to do the best that he could for us,” Chiarello said.
President Barack Obama, who addressed military personnel today at Fort Bliss, Texas, plans to stop in Louisiana on Sept. 3, said Jay Carney, his spokesman.
Romney made his trip after last night’s close of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, where he formally accepted the party’s nod with a speech that made a direct appeal to voters disaffected with Obama and aimed at countering Democratic accusations that he is out of touch with the lives of most Americans.
Romney and his running mate, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, had been scheduled to jointly attend a rally in Richmond, Virginia. Ryan ended up headlining the event on his own.
Hurricane Isaac made landfall in southeast Louisiana and its impact was felt along the Gulf of Mexico coast, including Tampa, where Republicans condensed their national convention to three days from four. The storm briefly threatened to drown out Romney’s message and derail his celebration with the potential to deal a crushing blow to New Orleans reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The storm never gained Katrina’s strength when it reached the coast on Aug. 28, allowing Republicans to keep the spotlight on Romney.
In his acceptance speech, Romney sought to identify with the dreams and disappointments of U.S. voters amid unemployment that’s stuck above 8 percent, presenting himself as a unifying figure with the expertise to create jobs and heal partisan rifts. He tailored part of his remarks to win the votes of women with stories of how his mother and wife had shaped his life, saying their struggles were often harder than those faced by men and that he would be a president who “understands what they do.”
Romney used personal details, including an allusion to his Mormon faith, to offer himself as an alternative to Obama.
“‘Hope and change’ had a powerful appeal,” Romney, the 65-year-old former Massachusetts governor, said, invoking Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan. “But tonight I’d ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama?”
“You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him,” he added.
Tobe Berkovitz, a professor of communication at Boston University, said Romney’s acceptance speech “was as good as you can get from Romney. Solid and thematic. Several winner lines attacking Obama, none of which came across as mean.”
Stephen Hess, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, said it was “exactly the wrong speech. It was a ‘who am I,’ when what the electorate needed from him was a ‘what I will do,’” address.
It also was a departure from Romney’s prior campaign strategy, which was to frame the election as a referendum on the incumbent’s record. Instead, he is setting up a choice between opposite approaches. That’s a calculated risk for Romney as he begins the final two-month sprint toward Election Day on Nov. 6.
At its heart is a bet that voters’ economic strain and dashed expectations of Obama’s presidency will prompt them to embrace Romney’s plan for scaling back the size of government and energizing the private sector through trillions of dollars in new tax cuts.
“I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed,” Romney said. “But his promises gave way to disappointment and division.”
Romney has yet to provide many details of his fiscal plans. He began to address that omission by saying voters are entitled to a clearer picture of his background and his proposals.
“To make that choice, you need to know more about me and about where I will lead our country,” Romney said.
Romney’s approach opens him to criticism by Democrats, who argue his proposals will worsen the nation’s economic troubles and conditions for the most vulnerable in society.
Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager said the Republican nominee had “failed to make the case for a Romney presidency.
“He topped off the Romney reinvention with yet another night of personal attacks and gauzy platitudes but no real tangible ideas to move our country forward,” Cutter said.
Obama’s top strategist David Axelrod said the president is working on a speech that will “reflect the thinking of a leader who has great confidence in this country and a clear sense of what we need to do to continue to repair the damage that was done by the recession, and to reclaim the economic security that so many Americans have lost.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Jean Lafitte, Louisiana, at
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