Both President Obama and his challenger took on the role of Healer in Chief as they reacted to the mass murder in a Colorado movie theater. The two men spoke of common humanity in a way that Americans may long to hear in the contentious days ahead in the presidential race.
Campaign professionals had expected the two candidates to dial back their harsh rhetoric—about Romney’s unreleased taxes and Obama’s thoughts on government support of small business—a week from now. That is when the Olympic Games begin and operatives calculate that voters will be tuned to the athletes and expected American triumphs — leaving them in no mood for political brawling.
The shooting that left 12 dead made it imperative for both camps to adopt a more civil, humane tone ahead of schedule.
“This campaign had been like a boxing match, with absolutely no restraint on both sides in the last few days, pummeling each other full force,” said Steve Schmidt, who headed Sen. John McCain’s campaign team four years ago. “Now, with this terrible event, it’s like the bell rang a little early and you are going to see the combat ramped down a bit.”
The two camps both pledged to take down the heavy blocks of advertising they had in rotation in the battleground state of Colorado. That may be one of the last respites from advertising, with 109 days left in the race.
Although political professionals hesitate to talk about advantage in times of tragedy, presidents are seen as having the advantage given the magisterial role that comes with the office. Obama struck the expected notes of sadness and national unity. Romney, who had spoken many times to grieving families as the head of several congregations in his church, also seemed at ease with the weighty subject of the day.
“The people we lost in Aurora loved and they were loved,” Obama said from what was to have been a campaign rally in Fort Myers, Fla. “They were mothers and fathers; they were husbands and wives; sisters and brothers; sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. They had hopes for the future and they had dreams that were not yet fulfilled.”
Romney’s condolences came a short time later, from New Hampshire.
“I stand before you today not as a man running for office but as a father and grandfather, a husband, an American,” he said. “This is a time for each of us to look into our hearts and remember how much we love one another and how much we love and how much we care for our great country. There’s so much love and goodness in the heart of America.”
Four years ago Obama and McCain briefly put aside fierce feuding over the causes and corrective measure needed for the financial calamity facing the nation. They appeared together at ground zero in New York to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.