JEAN LAFITTE, Louisiana (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made an unscheduled visit to Louisiana on Friday to view damage from Hurricane Isaac, the day after accepting his party’s nomination to take on President Barack Obama in the November 6 election.
Romney thanked first responders and inspected the fallout from the storm that had originally stoked fears of a repeat of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans seven years ago.
His appearance preceded Obama’s own stop in the region, which is scheduled for Monday.
Romney joined Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in Jefferson Parish near New Orleans as they surveyed half-submerged cars, debris and high water left from Isaac, now a tropical depression.
The Republican candidate told Jindal he was “here to learn” about the situation, and spoke with a handful of victims before meeting with local officials, including the mayor of Jean Lafitte.
Romney was fresh from the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, which sought to present a more informal side of the candidate. The former businessman has struggled to shake off perceptions of being stiff and aloof.
Jodie Chiarello, 42, a resident of Jean Lafitte who was one of those affected by the storm, said that “it was nice,” meeting with Romney. “He was caring,” said Chiarello, a Republican.
Some Democrats seized on Romney’s visit to criticize the policies of his running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, who has proposed substantial curbs in disaster relief spending.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the visit “the height of hypocrisy.”
Romney detoured to Louisiana after appearing in Florida at a send-off rally with his family and Ryan.
Romney had planned to continue on with Ryan to Richmond, Virginia, for another joint rally in an effort to seize momentum from the convention, during which Romney criticized Obama’s handling of the economy.
Isaac delayed the Republican convention by a day, as Republicans feared kicking off the festivities while the storm bore down on the Gulf Coast region still skittish after Katrina.
The storm was the first hurricane to hit the United States this year and provided a successful test of New Orleans’ new $14.5 billion flood defenses.
Obama’s Republican predecessor in the White House, George W. Bush, received heavy criticism for his administration’s sluggish initial response to the devastation unleashed by Katrina.
Obama has gone to great lengths to show that he is on top of the response to Isaac. He made several references to the storm in his campaign remarks this week and said he had been in contact with various federal agencies.
“It was the assessment of the president’s team working with all the people involved in operations, as well as people on the ground, that Monday was a good day for the president to visit,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Friday.
One former Bush administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Romney made a wise move in planning his own visit to the region.
“Part of running for president is to look like a president,” the former official said. “If you’re going to ask voters to vote for you and trust you for four years, it helps if they can visualize you doing the job in similar settings as presidents.”
Reporting By Sam Youngman; Editing by Karey Wutkowski and Peter Cooney