NEW ORLEANS—Mitt Romney made a last-minute trip to the Gulf Coast to tour storm damage caused by Hurricane Isaac.
The Republican nominee was invited to the region by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who joined him on a tour of Jean Lafitte, La., which was hit by severe flooding as the hurricane made landfall. Emergency crews rescued dozens of residents trapped by high floodwaters.
"I'm here to learn and obviously to draw some attention to what's going on here," Romney told Jindal. "So that people around the country know that people down here need help."
Romney's trip comes just days after GOP officials canceled the first day of the Republican National Convention amid fears Isaac might make a direct hit on Tampa, the site of the convention.
The Romney campaign announced early Friday the candidate would skip a Virginia rally with his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, to travel to the region. Just hours later, the White House announced President Barack Obama would head to Louisiana to survey storm damage on Monday.
Democrats quickly accused Romney of playing politics with his visit, accusing him of backing GOP efforts to slash disaster relief funds from the federal budget.
"It is the height of hypocrisy for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to make a pretense of showing sympathy for the victims of Hurricane Isaac when their policies would leave those affected by this disaster stranded and on their own," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement issued to reporters.
But Romney aides pushed back on the criticism, insisting Romney's trip wasn't political.
Stuart Stevens, a top strategist to the Republican nominee, insisted Romney's trip was "not political." He noted Romney's visit was scheduled to last only 90 minutes—not enough time to distract from local officials busy trying to help those affected.
Stevens acknowledged there were "concerns about being disruptive" but said Romney had chosen to travel with a smaller footprint. Indeed, the Romney campaign took fewer staff members and only a pool of reporters to Jean Lafitte. The rest of the traveling press corps remained on Romney's campaign plane at the New Orleans airport, where many facilities were still without power.