The Colorado movie theater massacre upended the presidential campaign Friday, obliging both candidates to cast aside the increasingly bitter tone of the race and reach for a rare moment of American harmony. Yet the moment itself was a political test, for a president charged with consoling a nation and for a challenger needing to show that he could rise to the occasion.
"There are going to be other days for politics," Obama said from one key electoral state, Florida. From another one, New Hampshire, Romney said much the same.
It was more than an unusual case of agreement between the political foes. At times, the two men sounded just like each other, speaking of evil and of prayer, of the unfulfilled dreams of those killed, of the need to put aside daily and petty grievances to appreciate life and show compassion to others.
Addressing a crowd that had gathered for what was expected to be a raucous political rally, he said somberly, "Michelle and I will be fortunate enough to hug our girls a little tighter tonight, and I'm sure you will do the same with your children."
Likewise, Romney said to his audience, "Each one of us will hold our kids a little closer." He said, "I stand before you today not as a man running for office, but as a father and grandfather, a husband, an American."
Amid their calls for unity and prayer, both men said nothing of gun control, a polarizing issue that has been all but absent from the campaign debate this year.
Both Romney and Obama have shifted with the times, moving away from stances that favored tougher gun control laws.