* Obama seeks to show lessons learned from Bush with Katrina
* Vows to "respond big and respond fast" after storm hits
By Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON, Oct 28 President Barack Obama on
Sunday faced the delicate task of balancing his administration's
biggest storm response with his tough campaign for re-election
as Hurricane Sandy bore down on the U.S. East Coast little more
than a week before Election Day.
Trying to show he had learned the lessons of White House
predecessor George W. Bush's botched handling of Hurricane
Katrina in 2005, Obama sought to project the image of a
president fully engaged in marshaling resources to deal with a
looming natural disaster.
Visiting the federal storm-response center in Washington,
Obama warned East Coast residents to prepare for a "serious and
big" storm that will be slow-moving and might take time to clear
up. But he vowed the government would "respond big and respond
fast" after it strikes.
But even as he pledged to stay on top of the storm threat,
Obama - after shuffling his campaign travel because of the
hurricane - was sticking to plans to fly to Florida on Sunday
He was due to hold a rally in Orlando on Monday and another
later in the day in Ohio, making his case for a second term in
two crucial swing states before returning to Washington. The
storm also scrambled Republican challenger Mitt Romney's
schedule, but he too was going ahead with a number of events.
With Sandy forecast to barrel ashore between the
mid-Atlantic states to New England late on Monday, Obama faces
an increased risk to his prospects in a tight presidential race
if the government's emergency apparatus fails to perform well.
Voters go to the polls nationwide on Nov. 6.
Obama, who also held a conference call with governors and
mayors from states in the storm's path, sought to allay such
concerns on Sunday.
"My main message to everybody involved is that we have to
take this seriously," Obama told reporters after he was briefed.
He said emergency officials were confident that enough equipment
and personnel were in place in advance of the storm's onslaught.
"My message to the governors, as well as to the mayors, is
anything they need, we will be there, and we will cut through
red tape. We are not going to get bogged down with a lot of
rules," he said.
LESSONS LEARNED FROM KATRINA
Obama's aides said storm preparations were in line with his
response to other natural disasters on his watch, such as last
summer's devastating wildfires in Colorado, last year's
Hurricane Irene and the tropical storm that hit the Gulf Coast
this summer ahead of the Democratic convention.
President George W. Bush suffered serious political damage
from what was widely perceived as his administration's inept
handling of Katrina, which devastated New Orleans during his
second term. Bush was also widely criticized for being
out-of-touch personally and slow to respond to the crisis.
With that in mind, Obama's White House has made it a
practice of trying to get ahead of events.
This time, however, the country faces a major natural
disaster on the cusp of a presidential election, when the
incumbent has recently been struggling to curb his opponent's
Officials in the path of the storm scrambled to ensure that
extended power outages would not disrupt the early voting that
appears to be critical for both candidates this year.
Obama said he did not think the storm would impact voting,
but some on his campaign staff were not so certain.
A severe disruption is likely to hurt Obama more than
Romney, as his campaign has counted on early voting to lock up
the support of younger voters and others considered less likely
to vote on Election Day, Chandler said.
But an Obama campaign official said, "We remain confident in
our ability to get our voters to the polls by Election Day."