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New Orleans - White House challenger Mitt Romney has toured storm-ravaged New Orleans in a bid to burnish his presidential credentials ahead of his November battle with Barack Obama.
Coming off the back of a rousing Republican party convention, Romney sought on Friday to build momentum by taking his new campaign plane to New Orleans, where rescue crews are clearing up after Hurricane Isaac unleashed a torrential downpour.
Obama's camp swiftly declared that the Democratic incumbent would tour the city himself on Monday, but denied they were playing catch up, insisting they did not want the president's large security detail to disrupt disaster relief.
Romney met Louisiana's Republican governor Bobby Jindal and toured disaster relief operations in still partly flooded streets with National Guard troops.
Romney told Jindal he came to Louisiana “to learn and obviously to draw some attention to what's going here”, in order to let “people around the country know that people down here need help.”
Seven years ago, New Orleans became a symbol of presidential failure when Obama's Republican predecessor George W. Bush was seen as bungling the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, which left 1,800 dead along the Gulf Coast.
Isaac was much less devastating, and flood defenses erected around New Orleans since 2005 protected the city, but both candidates were determined to show off their crisis leadership skills.
“The decision to travel on Monday was made before Governor Romney announced his decision to travel to Louisiana on Friday,” an Obama aide said in a call to reporters from Air Force One.
Obama had already made federal emergency funding available.
Romney strategist Stuart Stevens insisted the campaign had not rushed to beat Obama to the scene, and denied it was inappropriate for a candidate to attend the scene before the commander-in-chief's trip on Monday.
“So one's supposed to wait that long?” he asked. “Seems a little wacky.”
Louisiana resident Doug Boulware, 54, concisely articulated how many locals thought about Obama and Romney using the storm-hit area as a political football.
“Neither one of these guys can do what New Orleans needs to have done right now, which is manual labor and getting up in bucket trucks and fixing those wires,” said Boulware, who owns and manages nursing homes in the state.
Obama convened a conference call with several parish presidents and other local leaders from Louisiana and Mississippi and pledged further assistance to contend with flooding and storm damage, adding that he was releasing aid for individuals impacted by the hurricane.
The White House did not attack Romney's trip, but top Senate Democrat Harry Reid denounced Romney's tour as the “height of hypocrisy”, alleging that Republican policies would gut disaster funding.
Romney flew to Louisiana in his new campaign plane, unveiled on the first day that the candidate is able to begin spending campaign funds he raised for the general election.
Romney's schedule change came immediately after Thursday's triumphal conclusion of the Republican convention, where he set the seal on his official candidacy with a promise to create millions of new jobs.
The former Massachusetts governor told Americans that Obama had singularly failed to deliver the “hope and change” he promised and that the country must act to save an economy crippled by wrong-headed policies.
Obama's camp was dismissive, insisting the convention would not change the dynamics of the race, which has seen the incumbent maintain narrow leads over the challenger in most of the swing states he needs for victory.
The Democrats hold their own convention to formally re-nominate Obama beginning Tuesday in Charlotte, North Carolina, and will hope for a bump in support to match whatever new momentum the Republicans won in Tampa.
Senior Obama advisor David Axelrod promised the president would provide the specifics that Romney's address on Thursday - which he said was packed with personal anecdotes and patriotic platitudes - lacked.
“I think that what people were tuning in hoping to hear were practical solutions to the challenges that we face,” Axelrod told MSNBC television.
Meanwhile Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan spoke at a rally at the airport in Richmond, Virginia, saying voters in November faced an historic choice and needed politicians like Romney.
“We are at the proverbial fork in the road. We've got a choice of two futures,” Ryan said.
“And what you need in a moment like this, when our economy is in doubt, when a debt crisis looms on our horizon like it's plaguing Europe, when we know, without a shadow of a doubt, that our children are going to get a diminished future if we stay on the current path? You need principled leaders.” - Sapa-AFP