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Movie-Theater Shootings Put Presidential Politics On Hold

President Obama turned a planned campaign speech in Fort Myers, Fla., into a brief statement about the shooting rampage. He asked the audience to join him in a moment of silence for the victims.
Mandel Ngan
AFP/Getty Images
President Obama turned a planned campaign speech in Fort Myers, Fla., into a brief statement about the shooting rampage. He asked the audience to join him in a moment of silence for the victims.

(Updated @ 1:11 pm ET)

As deeply as the mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., shocked the national conscience, they also quickly affected the U.S. political scene, with both major party presidential campaigns ripping up their scripts for Friday, and the mayor of the nation's largest city using the issue to put the candidates on the spot on gun control.

Following news reports of the deaths of at least 12 people attending a Denver-area midnight movie theater showing of The Dark Knight Rises, both President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney revised their campaign schedules.

The president had planned to hold Florida campaign rallies in Fort Myers and Orlando. Instead, Obama canceled the Orlando event and turned the Fort Myers appearance — which had been planned as a rollicking rally to fire up supporters — into a brief and somber affair as the president channeled the national mood.

"There are going to be other days for politics. This is a day for prayer and reflection," Obama said, before he asked the audience to join him in a moment of silence for the victims and their families.

Obama underscored that it wasn't the time for political applause lines or zingers aimed at Romney and congressional Republicans by saying:

"If there's anything to take away from this tragedy, it's the reminder that life is very fragile. Our time here is limited and it is precious. And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things, not the trivial things which so often consume us in our daily lives. Ultimately, it's how we choose to treat each other and how we love one another."

The president canceled the planned Orlando event to return to Washington and monitor the situation in Aurora, Colo.

The White House also issued a statement from the president and first lady Michelle Obama, who canceled two Friday campaign stops in Virginia. Vice President Biden canceled a scheduled campaign appearance in Houston, a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Striking a tone similar to the president's, Romney, the all-but-official Republican presidential nominee, told a crowd at what was supposed to have been a campaign event in Bow, N.H.:

"Today is a moment to grieve and remember, and to reach out and to help, to appreciate our blessings in life. Each one of us will hold our kids a little closer, linger a bit longer with a colleague or a neighbor, reach out to a family member or friend.

"We'll all spend a little less time thinking about the worries of our day and more time wondering about how to help those who are in need of compassion most. The answer is that we can come together. We will show our fellow citizens the good heart of the America we know and love."

Romney's campaign also issued a statement on behalf of himself and his wife, Ann. Mrs. Romney also canceled political appearances scheduled for Friday.

Both the Obama and Romney campaigns scrambled in the hours following the shootings to pull down their political ads in Colorado out of respect for the victims and the desire to avoid the appearance of crassness in a key battleground state.

Obama's campaign initially said it would stop airing "contrast" ads, which also are known as negative ads, but later said it asked Colorado station affiliates to pull all campaign ads. Romney's campaign also said it was suspending all TV ads in the state.

With so many killed and wounded by a gunman, it was inevitable that the issue of gun control, which has played little role in the campaign, would emerge.

Early Friday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg reacted to the shootings by calling on both Obama and Romney to provide specific details on how they wound combat gun violence in the nation.

During a WOR Radio interview, Bloomberg said:

"You know, soothing words are nice, but maybe it's time that the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they are going to do about it, because this is obviously a problem across the country. And everybody always says, 'Isn't it tragic?' And, you know, we look for, was the guy, as you said, maybe trying to re-create Batman.

"I mean, there are so many murders with guns every day, it's just got to stop. And instead of the two people — President Obama and Gov. Romney — talking in broad things about, they want to make the world a better place, OK, tell us how. And this is a real problem. No matter where you stand on the Second Amendment, no matter where you stand on guns, we have a right to hear from both of them concretely, not just in generalities — specifically what are they going to do about guns?"

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Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.