Presidential campaigns shift gear after shootings

RICHARD COWAN AND ALISTER BULL
Last updated 07:58 21/07/2012
Obama
Reuters
SORROW: President Obama observes a moment of silence to remember the victims of the Colorado 'Batman' shooting.

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US President Barack Obama and his rival Mitt Romney on Friday canceled presidential campaign-style speeches and some ads attacking each other, replacing them with expressions of sorrow for the victims of a deadly shooting rampage in Colorado.

Obama, briefed by aides early in the morning, returned to Washington after addressing the incident during remarks at an event in Fort Myers, Florida.

A White House spokesman told reporters that the administration saw no connection to terrorism in the shootings.

A gunman in a gas mask and bullet-proof vest killed 12 people at a midnight premiere of the new "Batman" movie in a suburb of Denver early on Friday, sparking pandemonium when he hurled a gas canister into the auditorium and opened fire on moviegoers.

As his campaign team pulled down negative campaign ads in Colorado, a sombre-looking Obama sought to strike a consoling and uplifting tone as he addressed an audience that had turned up expecting a raucous campaign rally.

"There are going to be other days for politics. This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection," Obama told supporters before asking them to join him in a moment of silence to commemorate the victims of the shooting.

His Republican challenger in the November 6 contest for the presidency also scrapped a campaign-style speech in New Hampshire and instead delivered a speech of less than five minutes to a quiet crowd.

"Our hearts break with the sadness of this unspeakable tragedy," Romney said. In a statement issued earlier in the day, Romney said that he expected the shooter "will be quickly brought to justice."

Like Obama, his campaign pulled ads in Colorado and his wife, Ann, canceled appearances.

Democratic Representative Ed Perlmutter, whose Colorado congressional district includes Aurora where the massacre occurred, said, "I am stunned and furious at the news of the shooting."

He added that "Colorado is not a violent place, but we have some violent people."

Words of sorrow poured out from Washington politicians, but they were silent on long-standing calls by some groups for tougher gun control laws. That hot-button issue does not garner wide support among U.S. voters and is an especially difficult topic for candidates to broach so close to the November 6 presidential and congressional elections.

EMOTIONAL WORDS

In his remarks in Florida, Obama said, "I'm sure many of you are parents who had the same reaction I did when we heard the news." He added, "My daughters go to the movies. What if Malia and Sasha had been at the theatre as so many kids do each day?"

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"I hope all of you will keep the people of Aurora in your hearts and minds today. May the lord bring them comfort and healing in hard days to come," he said.

The president had been scheduled to speak at a second campaign event, in Winter Park, Florida. Instead, Air Force One flew back to Washington.

First lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden also canceled their campaign events for the day.

Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who was traveling with Obama in Florida, said the campaign had "for the time being" asked television stations to pull campaign ads attacking Romney off the air.

Obama spoke by telephone with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper for an update on the incident while traveling to the event in Fort Myers, the White House said.

- Reuters

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