Obama takes a chance and hits the campaign trail

President Barack Obama waves as he is introduced during a campaign event at Iowa State University, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012, in Ames, Iowa.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Barack Obama
President Barack Obama waves as he is introduced during a campaign event at Iowa State University, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012, in Ames, Iowa.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Updated 6:30 p.m. ET

(CBS News) FORT COLLINS, Colorado - President Obama took a political chance today embarking on a campaign trip to three swing states even as Hurricane Isaac was bearing down on the Gulf Coast.

The last thing Mr. Obama wants or needs is to face criticism two months before the election that he should have been at the White House overseeing federal preparations for and response to the approaching storm rather than campaigning for re-election.

At his first campaign event on the campus of Iowa State University, Mr. Obama was quick to show concerns about the storm were on his mind.

"Before I begin," he told a crowd of 6,000, "I think it's important to say that our thoughts are with fellow Americans down on the Gulf." He said response teams and supplies were already in place.

"No matter what this storm brings," he said, "America will be there to help folks recover."

"When disaster strikes, we're not Democrats or Republicans first - we are Americans first - we're one family and we help our neighbors in need."

Mr. Obama made a similar statement a few hours earlier before leaving the White House on his campaign trip to Iowa, Colorado and Virginia.

He said he received another update on the path of the storm and emergency preparations for its landfall. He signed an emergency declaration yesterday for Louisiana and this morning for Mississippi, authorizing advance federal assistance to those states. And he admonished those living in the storm's path to take the threat seriously.

Obama on Isaac: "Now is not the time to tempt fate"
Campaign 2012: complete coverage

"Now is not the time to tempt fate. Now is not the time to dismiss official warnings."

But the president cannot afford to tempt political fates by being out of position if additional presidential action is needed to coordinate the response to the hurricane.

"If any changes need to be made," said campaign press secretary Jen Psaki of the president's schedule, "we'll make the changes."

In 2005, then-President Bush was caught out of position on a trip to Arizona and California when Hurricane Katrina unleashed its fury on New Orleans. He cut short his trip, returned to his Texas ranch and then headed back to the White House to oversee the federal response which was already in trouble. The mismanagement of Katrina remains a scar on Mr. Bush's presidency.

While all too aware of the price Mr. Bush paid, Psaki portrayed it as important that Mr. Obama proceed with his campaign trip. She said he wants to make sure college students understand the stakes in this election.

Aside from the first event today at Iowa State University in Ames, the president's trip was taking him to rallies at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and to the University of Virginia tomorrow in Charlottesville.

All three schools are situated in swing states that Mr. Obama won in 2008 and are deemed indispensable to his re-election strategy this year.

The president also used his first speech to take a swipe at the Republican National Convention underway in Tampa.

"It should be a pretty entertaining show," he said with obvious sarcasm. "I'm sure they'll have some wonderful things to say about me," knowing full well the opposite is the case.

He portrayed the GOP ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as having nothing to offer but $5 trillion in tax cuts that would - in his view - disproportionately benefit the rich.

He told his audience of college students that they have more at stake than anyone - facing a future that would be adversely affected if the Romney-Ryan agenda is enacted.

But the Romney campaign responded in kind to what the president told college students.

"After nearly four years in office, the President has left young Americans facing higher unemployment, mounting debt, rising costs, and fewer opportunities in the Obama economy," said Amanda Henneberg, Romney campaign spokesperson. "They deserve better."

She said the Romney-Ryan plan "will jumpstart our economy for the next generation by creating 12 million new jobs and higher take-home pay."

The president's trip targets college students in the hope of re-energizing their support that helped him win election four years ago.

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.