FT. MYERS, Fla. -- An audience of loyal President Obama supporters numbering in the hundreds came here eager for a presidential pick-me-up, a campaign speech billed as a “grass-roots event.”
“Ft. Myers is fired up to see @BarackObama this morning,” read a message on the Obama for America Florida Twitter feed. The message was later deleted.
Instead, the audience saw a president seizing what aides described as a “leadership moment,” a rare chance for a candidate to rise above the sniping and connect with the American people at a time of mourning.
“I was looking forward to having a fun conversation with you about some really important matters,” Obama told the crowd at the beginning of a somber, seven-minute address. “But this morning, we woke up to news of a tragedy that reminds us of all the ways that we are united as one American family.”
The president had intended to punch back at the Romney campaign after a week’s worth of attacks from his rival over a sound bite from a campaign event a week earlier in which Obama had said, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”
Instead, he spoke as a father who would return to the White House and hug his two daughters “a little tighter tonight.”
“This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection,” he said.
Obama’s campaign also announced it would be suspending for the time being any negative ads that were airing in Colorado. According to ad trackers, the three most saturated television markets in the nation last week were all in Colorado.
In an interview last week, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper bemoaned the negative advertising bombarding his state’s voters. The voters who would determine the outcome there “are just zoning them out,” he said.
An Obama supporter, Hickenlooper said then that rather than the negative messages coming from both sides, what would be more useful for the state’s voters would be authentic demonstrations of leadership from Obama as he had shown last month when he visited the Colorado Springs area devastated by wildfires.
“I think that those kinds of stories are exactly the kind of things that people think the country needs right now, someone that can take tired firefighters and uplift them. Motivate them to do more and feel proud of what they’re doing,” he said.
He also spoke of another such moment, when Obama delivered the commencement address at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Officials told the president that given the heat of the day and the number of cadets graduating, more than a thousand, he should rotate out occasionally from a receiving line to greet each one with a handshake and a rigid military salute. Obama, Hickenlooper recalled, would have none of it.
At the end of the ceremony, a general jokingly apologized to the president, saying that he probably would not be playing any basketball for a while given his likely sore arm. “And the president looks at him with a sly smile, and he goes, ‘General, I’m a left-hander. I’ll be shooting lefty. I’ll be playing tomorrow.’”
“Those are the kinds of things that people love about the president, because that’s a natural leader,” Hickenlooper said.
Obama canceled a second campaign event scheduled for Friday in Orlando, Fla., to return to the White House. But he’s set to be back on the road on Monday for a three-day string of campaign events in Western states. At the moment, there are no plans for him to add Colorado to his itinerary.