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On Campaign Break, Obama Tours La. Storm Damage


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene.

Having spent much of the summer hammering Mitt Romney, President Obama is working to sell his record this week. Yesterday, administration spokesmen insisted that Americans are better off than they were four years ago.

INSKEEP: That's a change from the previous day's message, when key Obama backers would not make that claim. Yesterday, the president himself pointed to a success story.

GREENE: In Ohio, the president highlighted the recovery of the nation's auto industry. He met autoworkers in Toledo, one of several stops on his way to the Democratic Convention in Charlotte.

INSKEEP: Amid the campaigning, the president also conducted some official business, visiting an area hit by Hurricane Isaac in Louisiana.

Here's NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama traipsed through the Ridgewood neighborhood of St. John the Baptist Parish, northwest of New Orleans, where the floodwater is mostly gone now but the cleanup is just beginning.


EDWARD DIAZ: Better now.

OBAMA: I know it's a mess.

HORSLEY: Edward Diaz was one of the neighbors who shook hands with the president. His front yard is piled with evidence from the storm surge that swept from one end of his house to the other, soaking everything in its path.

DIAZ: We've spent three days taking out drywall, all the baseboards. And everything in the house, basically below four feet.

HORSLEY: Like his neighbors, though, Diaz seems remarkably upbeat. Much of the waterlogged furniture drying outside in the sun is labeled Don't Take. Just like their sofas and sideboards, the residents of this area are here to stay.

OBAMA: One thing you know about folks in Louisiana - they are resilient. People in Mississippi - they are resilient.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama says the government's immediate focus is on recovery efforts: temporary housing, reopening schools, and restoring transportation so people can get to work. The president also wants to figure out why parts of Louisiana that escaped Hurricane Katrina relatively unscathed suffered so much flooding in this storm.

OBAMA: How do we make sure that an area like St. John's is protected when you have these kinds of disasters?

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama was accompanied on his tour by Louisiana's Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, and both Louisiana senators - one Republican, one Democrat.

White House spokesman Jay Carney says disaster relief is and should be apolitical. Still, there was plenty of partisan politics earlier in the day, when Mr. Obama hosted a Labor Day rally in Toledo, Ohio.

CROWD: Obama. Obama. Obama.

OBAMA: Thank you.

CROWD: Obama.

HORSLEY: Toledo is a major manufacturing center for both Chrysler and General Motors, and the city has shared in the automakers' recovery. Mr. Obama was quick to remind his audience that Mitt Romney opposed the government's auto rescue. Romney himself was in Ohio last week, telling voters that after a losing economic season, America needs a new head coach. Mr. Obama countered with his own football-inspired trash talk.

OBAMA: He said he's going to be the coach that leads America to a winning season.


OBAMA: The problem is, everybody's already seen his economic playbook.

HORSLEY: The president characterized the Republican playbook as tax cuts heavily tilted towards the wealthy, deregulation that would end some consumer protections, and changes to the Medicare system for future retirees that Mr. Obama described as a Hail Mary pass.

OBAMA: And I've got one piece of advice for you about the Romney-Ryan game plan, Ohio. Punt it away.


OBAMA: It won't work. It won't win the game.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama has promised to spell out his own, alternative game plan on Thursday, when he accepts the Democratic nomination for reelection.

On Labor Day, with members of the UAW, the AFL-CIO, and the teachers union in his audience, Mr. Obama defended the role that organized labor has played in the U.S. He says Republicans are wrong to blame unions for our economic woes.

OBAMA: This notion that we should have let the auto industry die and that we should pursue anti-worker policies, in the hopes that unions like yours will unravel, it's part of the same old you're-on-your-own top-down philosophy that says we should just leave everybody to fend for themselves.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama says that's not the message he wants to send, to voters in Ohio or to the hurricane-drenched residents on the Gulf Coast.

Scott Horsley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.