JEAN LAFITTE, La. – Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney toured a flood-ravaged area of the Louisiana bayou on Friday in the aftermath of the hurricane that disrupted his party’s national convention in Florida.
Accompanied by his wife, Ann, the candidate rode in an SUV past submerged gas stations and flooded homes in this Mississippi River delta community near New Orleans. In some places, the water was several feet deep.
Romney got out of the vehicle and had an informal roadside conversation with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, both Republicans.
“I’m here to learn and obviously to draw some attention to what’s going on here so that people around the country know that people down here need help,” he told Jindal.
PHOTOS: Romney's post-Isaac tour
Jindal told the former Massachusetts governor about relief efforts by the Red Cross, Salvation Army and other organizations. Romney inquired about how many people were out of their homes or in shelters. “Did the water come from the sky, or the rivers, or the ocean?” he asked. The answer could not be heard.
Romney’s visit triggered a harsh reaction from Democrats in Congress, who charged that his running mate Paul D. Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, has proposed a federal budget that would gut money for response to disasters such as Hurricane Isaac.
Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, said in a statement: “It is the height of hypocrisy for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to make a pretense of showing sympathy for the victims of Hurricane Isaac when their policies would leave those affected by this disaster stranded and on their own.”
President Obama is planning a visit to Louisiana on Monday to survey the damage from Hurricane Isaac, now downgraded to a tropical depression swirling slowly across Arkansas, Missouri and other states. White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to say whether Romney’s trip would be a distraction from relief efforts. “I just don’t have any way to assess that,” he said.
Isaac’s sweep earlier this week across the lower Florida peninsula led Republicans to cancel the first day of the party’s convention in Tampa on Monday. The storm later killed six people in Louisiana and Mississippi, according to the Associated Press. It also forced thousands of people along the Gulf Coast to evacuate, flooded thousands of homes cut power to a huge swath of Louisiana.
Romney visited a day after he accepted the Republican presidential nomination in Tampa. He had planned to campaign on Friday afternoon in Richmond, Va., with Ryan. But Romney bowed out of that trip to visit the Louisiana disaster scene instead.
After speaking with Jindal on the side of the road, the Romney entourage drove for several miles through lower-income and middle-income neighborhoods. The floodwaters have receded in some places, but extensive damage was evident. Along one row of houses on stilts, some residents were on porches and balconies. Many waved. "We need Mitt Romney," one woman shouted.
In nearby Jean Lafitte, La., Romney visited with local officials and first responders in the town hall, which was surrounded by water several feet deep. One man was wading through water up to his knees. Another floated away from the building in a canoe.