WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney suspended their increasingly bitter presidential campaign Friday in the wake of the shootings at a movie theater in Colorado.
"There are going to be other days for politics,” Obama told supporters in Fort Myers, Fla., before cutting his campaign trip short to return to Washington. “This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection."
His remarks came less than 12 hours after a gunman wearing body armor stepped into a theater in Aurora, Colo., and opened fire during the premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises,” killing a dozen people and striking 71.
“I hope all of you will keep the people of Aurora in your hearts and minds today,” Obama said after calling for a moment of silence, the quiet cut only by the sound of a fussing baby. “May the Lord bring them comfort and healing in hard days to come.”
Obama’s campaign also canceled events by Vice President Joe Biden and first lady Michelle Obama, and first pulled its negative and then all its ads in Colorado. An Obama “super” political action committee, Priorities USA Action, also announced that it would suspend ads in Colorado.
Romney’s campaign pulled its ads in Colorado and canceled an appearance in Michigan by the candidate’s wife, Ann. The former Massachusetts governor spoke hours after Obama from a campaign stop in Bow, N.H.
“Ann and I join the president and first lady and all Americans in offering our deepest condolences for those whose lives were shattered in a few moments, a few moments of evil,” Romney said, adding that he appeared “not as a man running for office,” but as a husband, father and grandfather.
“This is a time for each of us to look into our hearts and remember how much we love one another and how much we love and how much we care for our great country,” Romney said.
Obama spoke about the shooting as a parent.
“My daughters go to the movies. What if Malia and Sasha had been at the theater, as so many of our kids do each day?” he said. “Michelle and I will be fortunate enough to hug our girls a little tighter tonight. I’m sure you will do the same with your children. But for those parents who may not be so lucky, we have to embrace them and let them know we will be there for them as a nation.”
Though Obama urged gun-control action in a newspaper essay after the January 2011 shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, he hasn’t made a strong push for it and gun control hasn’t emerged as an issue in the presidential campaign.
Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to say Friday whether Obama would call for a further review of gun-safety laws, saying only that the president “believes that we need to take common-sense measures that protect Second Amendment rights of Americans, while ensuring that those who should not have guns under existing law do not get them.”
He added that there had been “progress in that regard in terms of improving the volume and quality of information in background checks.”
The Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence was unmoved by the political condolences. “We don’t want sympathy. We want action,” President Dan Gross said.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called on both campaigns to say “specifically what are they going to do about guns?”
“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 in an interview on New York’s WOR Radio.
The National Rifle Association declined to comment. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the community,” the group said. “NRA will not have any further comment until all the facts are known."
The political cease-fire is unlikely to last much beyond the weekend, said Darrell M. West, the vice president of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a policy-research center in Washington.
“This is a cease-fire as opposed to the end of partisan warfare,” West said, adding that the campaigns are entering a crucial time – before the Olympics and August vacations – when they’ll want to reach voters.