New wave of pols heads to Gulf Coast

Senators pondering a bid for the presidency in 2008 are quickly trying to arrange visits to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast to plug an embarrassing gap in their campaigning travel itinerary.

Last Friday, two days after The Hill published a survey of White House aspirants who had not made their journey, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) traveled to the area for the first time since the storm.

Other senators with presidential aspirations are also committed to getting a firsthand look at the devastation. Sens. George Allen (R-Va.) and Joseph Biden (D-Del.) said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that they will be going to the Gulf during upcoming congressional recesses.

On Wednesday, The Hill published a survey of senators who have and have not been to the Gulf Coast since late August. McCain visited at the request of Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), according to the Biloxi Sun Herald.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) visited the affected areas last week and reportedly said, “If all it takes is some money, then you are all going to get some money. Shame on us if we don’t learn from this.”

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and James Jeffords (I-Vt.) will travel there as well this month.

Possible presidential hopefuls who have not yet committed to visiting are Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.). Calls to their offices were not returned.

According to the Sun Herald, McCain said he “wanted to wait until he knew he would not get in the way.” McCain toured the whole coast by helicopter.

“They need our help and they’re going to need our help for a long time,” McCain said after the visit.

Of the 76 senators who responded to The Hill’s survey last week, 39 senators had visited the Gulf Coast since Katrina and 37 had not. It is likely that none of the 24 who did not respond had gone because there are no media accounts of those senators traveling there.

Asked on “Meet the Press” why he has not yet seen the damage done by Katrina, Allen said, “We’ve been trying to figure it out and get a time to go,” adding that “it’s important” to visit.

Biden said he did not visit initially because he did not want to grandstand.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) last week estimated that 30 percent of House lawmakers have visited the affected areas.

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