Thursday, May 8, 2014

President Obama shows up in rural Arkansas--and is welcomed--post-tornado

Here is NPR's coverage of yesterday's presidential visit to Vilonia, Arkansas, population 3,815, and the site of an EF4 tornado that killed 16 in central Arkansas late last month.  Tamara Keith reports on the President's encounter with Daniel Smith and his young sons.  Smith didn't vote for Obama, but he seemed happy to have the President visit, accompanied by a bi-partisan group of state elected officials who also surveyed the damage and met with residents.  Keith reports this exchange:
[President Obama] walked up to Smith and his two sons, Gabriel and Garrison. "It's good to see you guys," the president said. 
"Man, it's wonderful to see you, sir," Smith replied. 
Smith shook the president's hand. Obama gave his two sons small boxes of White House M&Ms. 
"For someone of that stature to come out and want to see how you are and check on things means a lot," Smith says. 
Smith didn't vote for Obama. In 2012, the president lost Arkansas by more than 20 percentage points. And this was his first time in the state either as a candidate or as president. But some things just transcend politics. Smith says he's glad the president came to his cul-de-sac. 
"It makes you feel like he's in it with you, you know, it's the support," he says.
Keith quoted another resident, a woman who lost her stepson in the tornado:
"He owned it," [the woman] says. "It was nothing that he could say to comfort other than to let us know that a nation was grieving with us, and he didn't have to do that."
The New York Times also covered the Obama visit, and Michael Schmidt's story provides more political perspective than NPR, stating that the visit was laced with "political intrigue."  Schmidt explains that U.S. Senator from Arkansas, Mark Pryor (D), invited the President to Arkansas--having explained why that's so unusual:
Among those greeting Mr. Obama when he landed in Little Rock was the state’s Democratic senator, Mark Pryor, who is running for re-election against Representative Tom Cotton. The race has been expected to be tight, and Mr. Pryor has tried, until recently, to distance himself from Mr. Obama and other Democrats. The president is particularly unpopular in Arkansas — and this was his first visit to a state he lost by wide margins in both 2008 and 2012.
Among other comments, President Obama observed:
I could not be more impressed by the spirit of community that’s here. 
An earlier post about the late April tornadoes, which also touches on community, is here.  

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