Obama to tour Arkansas' tornado devastation

Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — President Barack Obama will tour Arkansas communities recently hit hard by severe tornadoes, a visit that also has political implications for the state.

In his first visit here as president, Obama also planned to meet Wednesday with victims, local officials and emergency personnel. Fifteen people were killed in an April 27 tornado outbreak near Little Rock that also destroyed hundreds of homes.

The president stopped while en route to California to raise money for the Democratic Party and accept an award from a foundation created by movie director Steven Spielberg.

Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, who invited Obama to tour the storm damage, greeted the president upon arrival at Little Rock Air Force Base. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, Pryor and Republican Rep. Tim Griffin were expected to accompany Obama to Vilonia, one of the hardest-hit communities.

Pryor is running for a third term against Republican Rep. Tom Cotton in one of the most expensive and closely watched Senate races in the country. Neither faces an opponent in Arkansas' primary May 20.

Pryor's willingness to appear with Obama stands in contrast to other Democrats in difficult races who have chosen to keep their distance from the president. Obama lost Arkansas in the 2008 and 2012 elections, and polls show he remains deeply unpopular in the state.

Republicans have made major gains in Arkansas over the past two elections by tying Democrats to Obama and his policies, particularly the federal health care law. The GOP controls both chambers of the state Legislature and holds all but one of its House and Senate seats in Washington.

Former President Bill Clinton and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited the storm-damaged communities of Mayflower and Vilonia on Sunday, and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate visited the day after the storm hit.

The Obama administration has designated four Arkansas counties as major disaster areas because of the storm damage. The National Weather Service has said the twister had winds reaching 166 mph to 200 mph.

The severe weather that hit Arkansas was part of a violent storm system that killed at least 35 across the Plains and South.

Obama's visit comes a day after his administration released a new report on climate change that attributed severe weather such as hurricanes and droughts to global warming. The report, however, states that the effect of climate change on the intensity or frequency of tornadoes is uncertain, and scientists are unsure whether climate change has played a role in recent erratic patterns of tornado activity.


Associated Press writer Andrew DeMillo contributed to this report.