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Obama plays role of consoler, meeting with Colorado shooting victims and families

President Barack Obama waves from the steps of Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Sunday, July 22, 2012. Obama is traveling to Aurora, Colo., to visit with families of victims of the movie theater shooting as well as local officials. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

AURORA, Colo. - President Barack Obama put politics aside for another day, travelling to Colorado to offer hugs, tears and the nation's sympathy to survivors of the Colorado shooting rampage and to families whose loved ones were shot dead

For a president nearing the end of his term and seeking a second one, Sunday presented another grim occasion for him to serve as consoler, a role that has become a crucial facet of the job. National tragedies compel presidents to show leadership and a comforting touch — or risk a plummeting public standing if they cannot match the moment.

"I come to them not so much as president as I do as a father and as a husband," said Obama, addressing reporters from a hospital hallway after his visits.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney said Obama's decision to meet with the families was "the right thing."

The massacre early Friday in the Aurora movie theatre left 12 dead and 58 wounded. It also temporarily silenced a bitter campaign fight for the White House between Obama and Romney. A single suspect, James Holmes, is being held without bond on suspicion of multiple counts of first-degree murder after the shooting rampage, which occurred minutes into a premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises" Batman movie early Friday in this suburb outside Denver.

Both men were searching for the right time and manner to re-enter the political debate.

Obama's stop in Colorado — by chance a key state in the state-by-state election — came as he was about to shift into a mix of campaign fundraisers and official travel across the West starting Monday. Romney resumed political activities Sunday in California, where he courted Republican donors in three fundraisers in the San Francisco area.

"I know the president is in Colorado today," Romney told supporters while keeping a subdued tone. "He's visiting with families and friends of the victims, which is the right thing for the president to be doing on this day — appreciate that."

Obama and Romney used previously scheduled campaign appearances on Friday to focus attention on the need for national unity in the aftermath of the shootings. Their campaign teams rescheduled Sunday television news show appearances by top aides and surrogates, essentially providing a break in what has been an increasingly negative campaign.

The Colorado rampage injected a new tone into the campaign after Obama and Romney had clashed repeatedly over the economy, health care programs for the elderly, and the Republican candidate's tax returns.

When the shootings occurred, Obama was set to start his second day of events in Florida, prompting his team to address the violence at a previously scheduled rally in Fort Myers, Florida, and scrapping an event in suburban Orlando.

Romney echoed Obama's call for unity, saying at a previously scheduled event in Bow, New Hampshire, that he joined with the president and first lady in offering condolences for those "whose lives were shattered in a few moments, a few moments of evil in Colorado."

"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 said.

Yet, beyond the calls for a higher purpose, the shootings could raise the profile of gun rights in the presidential campaign, an issue which has played a minor role so far.

As a senator, Obama voted to leave gun makers and dealers open to civil lawsuits, and as an Illinois state lawmaker he supported a ban on all forms of semiautomatic weapons and tighter state restrictions generally on firearms.

The task of articulating sorrow and loss has become a familiar one for Obama.

In November 2009, he led mourners at a service for victims of the mass shooting at Texas' Fort Hood. In January 2011, he spoke at a memorial for the six victims killed in Tucson, Arizona, when a gunman attacked Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as she met with constituents.

The following April, when some 300 people were killed in a multistate series of tornadoes, Obama flew to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to commiserate with residents whose homes were in ruins. A month later, Obama went to Joplin, Missouri, after a monster twister claimed 161 lives.

News from © The Associated Press, 2012
The Associated Press

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