JEAN LAFITTE, La. (AP) — Republican Mitt Romney launched the final leg of his quest for the White House by visiting storm-battered Louisiana on Friday. He drove through a town that was flooded by Hurricane Isaac in part because it's still outside the vast flooding protection system built with federal funds after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.
Just hours after accepting the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., Romney swooped into this fishing community, where Isaac brought severe flooding to the area earlier in the week before being downgraded to a tropical storm.
Romney, who chatted with a handful of storm victims and shook hands with first responders, didn't have too much to say. "I'm here to learn and obviously to draw some attention to what's going on here," Romney told Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who he accompanied to the Jean Lafitte town hall to meet with emergency workers. "So that people around the country know that people down here need help."
That snippet of conversation represented the bulk of Romney's public remarks in Louisiana on Friday.
His host, Jindal, is now calling on the federal government to expand the rebuilt flood protection system that prevented serious flooding in New Orleans during this week's storm. That system, built after flooding from Katrina devastated much of New Orleans, cost the Army Corps of Engineers $14.5 billion. It doesn't extend as far as Jean Lafitte, which is situated in Jefferson Parish, and has been affected by a series of hurricanes, including Katrina, Rita, Cindy and now Isaac.
"It is absolutely critical that the Corps, and certainly our delegation working them, but that the Corps and the federal government look at those other levees," Jindal said Thursday. Lafitte is included in a proposed ring levee that the state hopes to build, but there are no concrete plans to build yet.
Romney was silent on whether, as president, he would support paying for such an expansion. Romney's running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, has proposed eliminating $10 billion a year in disaster spending and requiring Congress to pay for emergencies by cutting from elsewhere in the budget. That proposal was blocked by GOP leaders.
Hurricane Isaac is blamed for at least six deaths in Louisiana and Mississippi. It submerged hundreds of homes, forced thousands of others to evacuate and cut power to nearly half of Louisiana's homes and businesses.
Romney didn't speak to reporters as he toured Jean Lafitte on Friday. The Romney campaign refused to say whether he would support additional funding for the levees, saying only that the GOP nominee "recognizes the importance of disaster prevention and would seek to ensure that we have the infrastructure we need to keep all Americans safe."
Jindal did explain the issue to Romney as they climbed into the Republican nominee's SUV and began their tour.
"It (the levee system) performs well, but the areas here — the other areas ..." Jindal said, trailing off because Romney jumped in.
"Are outside, outside that levee system," Romney said.
Romney's motorcade, including trucks equipped to drive through high water, edged gingerly down Jean Lafitte Boulevard, a main road.
Accompanied by National Guard vehicles, the caravan inched through water that at some points was a foot or more deep, submerging gas stations, flooding homes and covering front laws. Residents stood in the water and watched the motorcade pass.
Flood protection was clearly on the minds of residents. A man who waved a neon yellow sign reading "Mitt is Our Man" wondered why levees had not been able to protect the low-lying areas of this fishing community.
"It has really destroyed us," the man said to Romney after the motorcade stopped on the side of the road. "I don't know why we can't come up with something that saves all."