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While Campaigning, Obama Keeps Eye On Isaac


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

Republicans convening today in Tampa aren't the only ones juggling politics and storm watch. President Obama is also keeping a close eye on Hurricane Isaac, even as he campaigns today in Iowa and Colorado. Mr. Obama got an update on the storm from his emergency managers this morning. And he's urging Gulf Coast residents to heed the instructions of their local officials.

NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president, and he joins us now. And, Scott, we know that hurricanes can be a high-wire act for presidents. So, how is Mr. Obama handling the arrival of Isaac?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, you're right, Audie. And the White House is keenly aware of that challenge. This storm is arriving almost exactly seven years after Hurricane Katrina, which, of course, is now the poster child for a botched government response to disaster. On the other hand, there is a chance here for the government to shine if the response goes well. So the president wants to look engaged. He wants to look as though he's in command.

Before setting off on his campaign trip, Mr. Obama talked to reporters at the White House. He discussed that briefing from his FEMA director and the director of the National Hurricane Center. He also pointed out that he signed a preemptive disaster declaration for Louisiana yesterday. And he stressed that FEMA crews have actually been on the ground in the potentially affected areas of the Gulf for over a week now.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The hardest work, of course, is still ahead. And as president, I'll continue to make sure that the federal government is doing everything possible to help the American people prepare for and recover from this dangerous storm.

HORSLEY: In other words, this is an opportunity for the administration to show that the federal government is working for its citizens.

CORNISH: The federal government is working. That language seems to figure into the narrative that Mr. Obama has been talking about throughout this campaign.

HORSLEY: Yeah. He really is trying to offer an alternative to the sometimes anti-government rhetoric that we hear from Republicans. He'll say, you know, government can't solve every problem. But there are things government can do for people that they can't do for themselves.

Now, White House spokesman Jay Carney was quick to say today that the president isn't looking at this hurricane through a political lens. But certainly, a disaster response is a high-profile example of what the government can do. And Mr. Obama has also been trying to make the case that there's a role for government not just when the wind is blowing, not just when the rain is falling, but also to build up the levees when the sun is shining, and to pave the roads, and police the banks, and to educate the nation's young people.

CORNISH: The president is also talking about the role of government in education as he tours college campuses today. So, what is he saying to students?

HORSLEY: That's right. He's been talking a lot about pocketbook issues that are of concern to college students. His efforts to expand Pell Grants, provide tax credits to make college more affordable, contrasting that with cuts in funding that education might face under a Romney-Ryan budget.

But he and his supporters are also talking about other issues that they think will resonate with young people, whether it's ending the war in Iraq or the president's newly announced support for same-sex marriage. That was a big part of the introduction that the president got this afternoon on a campus of Iowa State University.

CORNISH: Now, young voters were obviously an important part of the president's coalition four years ago. Are they as energized this time around?

HORSLEY: You know, you don't see the same sort of level of frenzy at rallies, as you did perhaps four years ago. I've talked to professors here on campus who say they don't see the same level of enthusiasm. But the president here today counseled patience. He said that he knew four years ago that solving tough problems would take more than just one term. And he also flattered the young people in the audience today saying, look, you're the people who can make a difference. You're the generation that can make a difference.

As we get closer to Election Day, the Obama campaign will certainly be out on force on campuses, registering new voters, then working to make sure those students actually show up at the polls.

In some places, the job market is a real challenge. You know, a lot of students are just worried about having a job when they get done with college. That's not as big a problem here in Iowa where the unemployment rate is just 5.3 percent, three points below the national average. Virginia, where the president will be tomorrow, is also in pretty good shape. Colorado, pretty much on a par with the national average.

CORNISH: Thank you so much, Scott.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Audie.

CORNISH: NPR's Scott Horsley traveling with President Obama today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.