WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama will tour communities in Arkansas that were hit hard recently by severe tornadoes, a visit that also has political implications for the state.
In his first visit to the state as president, Obama planned to meet Wednesday with victims, local officials and emergency personnel. Fifteen people were killed in an April 27 tornado outbreak near Little Rock, which destroyed hundreds of homes.
The president will make the stop while on his way to California, where he will raise money for the Democratic Party and receive an award from a foundation created by movie director Steven Spielberg.
Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor invited Obama to tour the storm damage and was expected to accompany him. 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 communities the day after the storm hit.
The Obama administration has already designated four 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 complex of storms that killed at least 35 across the Plains and South.
The visit comes a day after the Obama 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 in Little Rock contributed to this report.
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