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Presidential campaigns pause for condolences after shootings

By Halimah Abdullah
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Fri July 20, 2012
Obama Romney CO Shootings
Obama Romney CO Shootings
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Obama's and Romney's campaigns cancel events after Colorado shootings
  • Both campaigns pulled their advertising in Colorado
  • Obama: "If there's anything to take away from this tragedy, it's the reminder that life is very fragile"
  • Romney: "Our hearts break with the sadness of this unspeakable tragedy"

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns hit pause on the partisan bickering and were united in expressing sadness and heartbreak over the deadly shooting in Aurora, Colorado.

Obama spoke for about six minutes Friday morning at a Fort Myers, Florida, convention center full of supporters who awoke this morning thinking they were going to a spirited rally. Instead, they like the rest of the nation, learned 24-year-old gunman James Holmes reportedly burst into a darkened movie theater, tossed in tear gas, and loosed a barrage of gunfire on audience members during an early Friday morning screening of the new Batman movie.

Timeline: Worst mass shootings in U.S.

In Fort Myers, there was an American flag, but no Obama campaign signs with the now familiar "Forward" campaign slogan.

There was no music. The mood was somber.

The public gets its first glimpse of James Holmes, 24, the suspect in the Colorado theater shooting during his initial court appearance Monday, July 23. With his hair dyed reddish-orange, Holmes, here with public defender Tamara Brady, showed little emotion. He is accused of opening fire in a movie theater Friday, July 20, in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people and wounding 58 others. More photos: Mourning the victims of the Colorado theater massacre The public gets its first glimpse of James Holmes, 24, the suspect in the Colorado theater shooting during his initial court appearance Monday, July 23. With his hair dyed reddish-orange, Holmes, here with public defender Tamara Brady, showed little emotion. He is accused of opening fire in a movie theater Friday, July 20, in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people and wounding 58 others. More photos: Mourning the victims of the Colorado theater massacre
Colorado movie theater shooting
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"What matters ... is not the trivial things which so often consume us. ... Ultimately it's how we choose to treat each other and how we love one another," Obama told the gathering.

"There will be other days for politics," the president continued. "This will be a day for prayer and reflection."

Theater shooting unfolds in real time on social media

Obama canceled afternoon events and headed for the White House, where he was to meet with FBI director Jack Lew, Homeland Security Adviser John Brennan and other key staff to get an update on the Aurora shooting.

Obama: Such evil is senseless
Romney condemns 'hateful act'
Bloomberg blasts politics on guns

Obama was in Palm Beach, Florida, in the middle of a two-day swing through the battleground state when Homeland Security Adviser John Brennan told him of the shooting at 5:26 a.m. The president spoke first with Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan and then called Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper from his motorcade from the Fort Myers airport to the convention center.

The Obama campaign's scripted attack for the day on how Romney's "economic agenda would be devastating for small businesses," was scrapped. The campaign raced to pull down ads in Colorado, designed to point out the differences between Obama and Romney.

"We have asked affiliates to pull down our contrast advertising for the time being. It takes time for stations to be able to do this, but we are making every effort," Obama's traveling campaign press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One.

Vice President Joe Biden and first lady Michelle Obama also canceled their events.

Romney, who spent Thursday attending meetings at his campaign headquarters in Boston, also used his first scheduled appearance of the day in Bow, New Hampshire, where to address the shootings. Romney and his wife, Ann, also canceled their events.

Aspiring sports reporter killed in theater shooting

A top Romney adviser said the candidate made the decision to set aside his usual stump speech and wrote a new one to offer his own personal reflections on the tragedy.

"He wanted to say something," the adviser told CNN.

In a speech that was steeped in Biblical references, Romney said, "This is a time for each of us to look into our hearts and remember how much we love one another."

"The apostle Paul explained, 'Blessed be God who comforteth us in all our tribulations that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble," Romney said.

He, too, stood on a stage that was stripped of campaign banners and music.

The Romney campaign also pulled its ads in Colorado until further notice, according to campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul. Major Republican super PAC American Crossroads and its affiliate Crossroads GPS have also requested that all television and Internet ads in Colorado be suspended for the time being.

Few hints of alleged shooter's past

Both Obama and Romney made the right call, political analysts say.

"No decent person hears about a mass murder and thinks immediately of politics," said Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Paul Begala. "President Obama handled it just right, speaking as our national Pater Familias, offering comfort, canceling his campaign appearances and pulling down his negative ads in Colorado. Mitt Romney, too, wisely offered prayerful condolences and did not seek to politicize this tragedy."

"Will this permanently alter the political discourse? Of course not," Begala said.

One of the nation's most outspoken advocates of stricter gun-control laws saw the tragedy a underscoring the need for both Obama and Romney to address the issue.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said in a radio interview Friday the two candidates for president needed to take a firmer line in addressing gun violence.

"Soothing words are nice, but maybe it's time that the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they are going to do about it, because this is obviously a problem across the country," Bloomberg said on WOR Radio's "The John Gambling Show."

Gun control supporters, such as Bloomberg, said Friday's tragedy should spark greater focus on how guns reach killers.

Opinion: Gun control won't stop mass murder

"The horrific nightmare of a mass shooting on innocent civilians in a crowded public place has, sadly, come true once again," said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-New York, whose husband was killed in the 1993 shooting on the Long Island Railroad and son was seriously injured. "We as a nation should also not continue to ignore avenues to prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future."

The National Rifle Association was cautious in its response.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the community. NRA will not have any further comment until all the facts are known," said Andrew Arulanandam, director of public affairs for the NRA.

NRA tweeter was 'unaware' of Colorado shooting, spokesman says

CNN's Jim Acosta and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report

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