Bush Visits Hurricane-Stricken Florida, Promises Quick Response
President Bush yesterday traveled to Florida to survey the damage caused by Hurricane Charley. Bush assured Floridians "Federal aid would arrive rapidly," said ABC World News Tonight, which added that "for most here, seeing the President was far less important than meeting life's most basic needs." NBC Nightly News showed footage of the President saying, "The lesson is respond quickly. We are responding quickly," adding that Bush was "trying to avoid the criticism leveled at his father's Administration after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, also an election year." The Miami Herald also said the President was "seeking to avoid the missteps his father made in 1992 when federal officials were excoriated for a lethargic response to Hurricane Andrew's chaos in South Dade. Bush made it clear Sunday that he has learned from President George H.W. Bush's experience. 'That was then, this is now,' he told reporters."
Another issue facing the President in Florida, reports the AP, was criticism from "some who will question whether his visit was also about seeking more support in a state that gave him the presidency by 537 votes in 2000." According to the Miami Herald, the President "acknowledged his visit could be construed as political. It was his second trip to Florida since Tuesday, when he motored across the Panhandle. 'And if I didn't come, they would have said, "He should have been here more rapidly,"' Bush said."
Bush's visit received widespread local TV coverage. Most stations focused on the President's meeting with victims of the hurricane, and his assurances that Federal help is on the way. Typical of the coverage was WAWS-TV of Jacksonville, Florida, which reported that the President "was briefed by local, state and federal officials before heading off with his brother, Governor Jeb Bush. President Bush took time to talk with people affected by the storm and reassured residents that help is on the way." Bush: "The government is set up to respond very quickly and we are." WSVN-TV of Miami, meanwhile, said Bush "wasted no time in asking. . .what's being done to assist victims of Hurricane Charley. FEMA officials briefed the President on the status of Punta Gorda" and then gave the President an aerial tour on Marine One.
Reacting to Bush's visit, the Washington Post quotes Florida Sen. Bill Nelson calling Bush's visit "appropriate," though "he acknowledged the trip was likely to pay political dividends for Bush in the politically important state, which remains 'split down the middle.'" Meanwhile, Florida Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings said on CNN's Late Edition (8/15) that Bush "would be criticized if he didn't come, he's criticized if he does come. It was important for the president to see what had happened in our state."
Analysts offered conflicting assessments on the impact of Bush's trip on the presidential campaign. The Miami Herald says "strategists" believe that "in a close race a catastrophe can carry political consequences," while Bush campaign strategists Matthew Dowd said on CBS' Face the Nation he doesn't think Hurricane Charley "will have a political impact. We're joining with the Kerry campaign in doing all we can to help people through this. I just don't think people are going to see this through a political lens." Kerry campaign strategist Tad Devine, also on CBS' Face the Nation, agreed with Dowd, saying, "This is not a political issue."
Kerry Says He Won't Visit State In Storm's Aftermath.
The AP reports this morning Kerry "said he has instructed his Florida campaign staff to provide food, clothing, shelter or other assistance to people whose lives have been disrupted by the hurricane. 'For the moment, our focus is on all of the police and response personnel necessary not being diverted from a visitor and really focusing on the recovery itself,' Kerry said." The Miami Herald, however, says the storm "puts Kerry in a bind. Strategists had hoped to exploit recent polls showing him gaining on Bush, but his campaign said Sunday it believed any Florida visit would be inappropriate."