JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Republican Mitt Romney slammed the Obama administration’s handling of foreign affairs in the wake of attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya, as the presidential campaign lurched back to negative mode after a one-day pause for reflection over the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Romney branded the administration’s early response to the attacks as “disgraceful,” in a statement the former Massachusetts governor released before confirmation that the American ambassador had been killed.
Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt fired back that the campaign was “shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack.”
U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three American members of his staff were killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi. Libyan officials said the attack was carried out by protesters angry over a film that ridiculed Islam’s Prophet Muhammed.
President Barack Obama, in a statement Wednesday morning, strongly condemned “this outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi.” He said he has directed administration officials “to provide all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya, and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe.”
Romney was expected to address the killings during comments in Jacksonville, Fla., Wednesday morning.
His statement said the administration’s early response to the attacks seemed to sympathize with the attackers.
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo had issued a statement saying, in part, that it condemns “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.” The statement, an apparent reference to the video, was posted hours before the Americans’ death in Libya was reported.
Romney said he was outraged by the attacks. He added, “It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a statement released at about the same time as Romney’s, condemned the attack in Libya “in the strongest terms.”
Tuesday’s pause for Sept. 11 remembrances of the 9/11 attacks had the two campaigns essentially in a stand-down mode. But with the dawn of a new day — and the violence half a world away — the political landscape at home was again wide open to negative ads and fierce statements, as the candidates were spreading out from Florida to Ohio to Nevada.
Romney, in the midst of a campaign week that has slingshot him across the nation, was holding one event Wednesday — at his own campaign office in Jacksonville, Fla., focused on the economy. Obama was heading west, to Nevada, where he planned to hit Romney and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan with charges of secrecy. The Obama campaign says the two Republicans are refusing to tell voters how they could pay for tax cuts that disproportionately help the wealthy without having to gut deductions for middle-class taxpayers.
An Obama campaign ad making that point will start running in Iowa, Virginia, Nevada and Ohio. Those four states, plus Florida, New Hampshire and Colorado, continue to draw the most campaign time and money, with others states looming on the margins as possible toss-ups.
One of those is Wisconsin, home state of the Republican lawmaker Ryan, who will be holding a town hall in Green Bay, Wis., on Wednesday as the race in the state appears to tighten. For the first time, Obama’s campaign was airing TV ads in Wisconsin, starting Wednesday. They come after Romney started running his own spots there Sunday.
Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden will also campaign in Ohio on Wednesday. Romney was splitting Florida duty with his wife, Ann, who was holding her own rally in Largo; former President Bill Clinton, meanwhile, was to campaign for Obama in Orlando.
Tens of millions of voters in most parts of the United States are not being wooed directly, as their states are already considered to tilt clearly toward Obama or Romney. Obama appears to have more favorable paths to the required 270 electoral votes he needs for a second term, but in a shaky economy, he is in a hard fight.
The 11th anniversary of the 2001 attacks on America compelled Obama, Romney and their campaign teams to hold off on direct confrontations. Both sides yanked negative TV ads. And both Romney and Obama offered extensive praise and expressions of sympathy for those who died in the attacks and for their loved ones.
Yet Romney, in address to a meeting of the National Guard, indirectly but clearly drew distinctions with Obama. After declaring that the day was not the proper moment to address differences with the president, Romney took issue with threatened cuts in defense and the handling of disability claims and called for more assertive international leadership.
“I wish I could say the world is less dangerous now,” he said.
Obama, for his part, offered election-year reminders that “al-Qaida’s leadership has been devastated and Osama bin Laden will never threaten us again.”
Said the president, “Our country is safer and our people are resilient.”