Colorado shooting casts pall over increasingly bitter presidential campaign

People bow in a moment of silence for the victims of the Colorado shootings during an appearance today by President Obama in Fort Myers, Fla.
People bow in a moment of silence for the victims of the Colorado shootings during an appearance today by President Obama in Fort Myers, Fla.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

BOW, N.H.—The mass shooting in Colorado cast a pall today over what has become a bitter presidential campaign, with President Obama and Mitt Romney muting anticipated attacks on each other to instead deliver somber tributes to the victims.

“We may never understand what leads anybody to terrorize their fellow human beings like this. Such violence, such evil is senseless. It’s beyond reason,” the president said during a truncated, six-minute speech in Fort Myers, Fla.

“But while we will never know fully what causes somebody to take the life of another, we do know what makes life worth living. The people we lost in Aurora loved and they were loved,” he said.

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At least 12 people were killed when a gunman began shooting at the crowd in a theater in Aurora, Colo., holding a midnight screening of the latest Batman movie.

Obama, the father of young daughters, said: “I’m sure many of you are parents who had the same reaction I did when we heard the news. My daughters go to the movies. What if Malia and Sasha had been at the theater as so many kids do each day?”

The president led a moment of silence near the end of his speech.

Romney’s appearance in New Hampshire took on the air of a church service, as the pre-program music was nixed and the crowd of about 200 sat in silence.

When it was time for Romney to appear, he was preceded on stage by an Anglican priest who led a prayer.

During his four-minute remarks, Romney joined the president in seeking to humanize the moment.

“I stand before you today not as a man running for office, but as a father and a grandfather, a husband, an American,” he said in a somber tone.

“Each one of us will hold our kids a little closer, linger a bit longer with a colleague or a neighbor, reach out to a family member or friend,” he added. “We’ll all spend a little less time thinking about the worries of our day, and more time wondering about how to help those who are need of compassion most.”

Afterward, Romney exemplified his belief by forming an impromptu greeting line and shaking the hand of each audience member as they filed out of his speech.

“Nice to see you,” he told one. “What a pretty dress,” he said to a little girl.

As with Obama, Romney’s stage was devoid of the usual campaign signs and slogans. Aides removed an Obama “upside down” economy sign about 2 1/2 hours before he spoke.

The president, as the nation’s leader, had the presidential seal on his podium, rather than his usual campaign logo.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters flying with Obama over Florida in Air Force One that the president ordered his administration to do “everything it can to support the people of Aurora in this extraordinarily difficult time.”

Campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the president also spoke with the mayor of Aurora, while Vice President Joe Biden and first lady Michelle Obama canceled their events today.

“We do not believe at this point there was an apparent nexis to terrorism,” Carney said.

An appearance by Ann Romney, wife of the presumptive Republican nominee, was cancelled, and the campaign pulled all its advertising in Colorado, a swing state that has been the focal point of a hearted battle between both candidates.

The Obama campaign also said it was pulling any negative ads it has been airing in the state.

In closing out a week of active campaigning, Romney had been expected to hit Obama for not holding a meeting of his business-advisory Jobs Council for six months, despite 40 consecutive months of unemployment over 8 percent.

And, as he had in recent days during stops in Pennsylvania and Ohio, as well as Boston on Thursday, he was expected to hammer Obama for saying last week that “if you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Instead, Romney switched the entire nature of his appearance at Coastal Forest Products, a specialty lumber supplier.

He was joined by New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, a former state attorney general who has been considered among Romney’s potential running mates.

Ayotte delivered her own words of condolence in introducing Romney, and then joined him on the greeting line after his speech.

Romney’s weekend schedule was not immediately publicized, but he was expected to head to the West Coast after spending Saturdays and Sundays this month at his home in Wolfeboro, overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee.

He flies to London at mid-week for the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics, before continuing on with visits to Israel and Poland.