Romney Duels With Obama Over Mideast Before Speeches

A day before separate appearances at a global philanthropic conference, Mitt Romney shifted his focus to criticism of Barack Obama’s foreign policy, accusing the president of dismissing violent Middle East conflicts as “bumps in the road.”

With both men scheduled to address the Clinton Global Initiative in New York today, the Republican presidential challenger sought to reverse his slide in the polls by questioning Obama’s handling of developments in the region, including the deaths of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya earlier this month.

“These are not bumps in the road; these are human lives,” Romney said yesterday in Pueblo, Colorado. “This is time for a president who will shape events in the Middle East.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney called the attacks “desperate” and “offensive” attempts by Romney and Republicans to gain a political advantage in a race that is tilting away from them.

Trailing in polls of battleground states, Romney is seeking to reenergize his White House bid by intensifying the pace of his public campaign and the tenor of his attacks against Obama. After a week spent largely fundraising, senior adviser Ed Gillespie said the campaign intends to draw sharper contrasts between Romney’s policies and those of Obama.

Benghazi Assault

While polls show Obama leading Romney on foreign policy issues, Republicans see an opportunity to cut into that advantage, pointing to surveys showing that voters have grown less satisfied since the Sept. 11 assault in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three colleagues.

A survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal/NBC News from Sept. 12-15 found that 49 percent approved of Obama’s job performance on international affairs, while 46 percent disapproved -- a five-point percentage drop since the month before.

Romney’s attacks were amplified by the full force of his party yesterday, with the National Republican Senatorial Committee challenging Democratic candidates in competitive races to “share their view” on Obama’s foreign-policy remarks. In a conference call with reporters, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Obama is putting Israel “on par” with other allies in the region, a position he finds “very, very concerning.”

Carter Comparison

Speaking at a campaign stop in Lima, Ohio yesterday, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan compared Obama’s handling of events in the Middle East to the 1979 taking of American hostages in Iran during Jimmy Carter’s presidency.

Republicans were reacting to comments made by Obama in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” broadcast Sept. 23, in which the president said it was clear there would be “bumps in the road” for Arab countries transitioning to democracy.

“I was pretty certain, and continue to be pretty certain, that there are going to be bumps in the road because, in a lot of these places the one organizing principle has been Islam,” Obama said. “There are strains of extremism and anti- Americanism and anti-Western sentiments. And you know can be tapped into by demagogues.”

The fresh assault on Obama’s foreign-policy positions occurred as the president traveled to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly. In his speech before world leaders this morning, Obama plans to stress his commitment to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

Schedule Criticized

The president will also condemn an anti-Islam video made in the U.S. that sparked protests across the Muslim world as well as the violence that followed, Carney said. While at the UN, Obama has no announced one-on-one meetings with world leaders, a schedule that’s drawn criticism from Republicans.

Obama said yesterday that the attack in Libya “wasn’t just a mob action,” while declining to call it an act of terrorism before an investigation is complete.

“We don’t have all the information yet and we’re still gathering it” Obama said in an interview in New York for “The View,” a daytime talk show on ABC, scheduled for broadcast today. “There’s no doubt that the kind of weapons that were used, that the ongoing assault, that it wasn’t just a mob action.”

Romney, too, traveled to New York last night to deliver his separate speech today before former President Bill Clinton’s CGI advocating for more open-trade policies and freer markets abroad.

Three-Day Swing

After his speech, Romney will embark on a two-day bus tour in Ohio with running-mate Ryan and hold events in Virginia later in the week. His intensified public schedule came after complaints from fellow Republicans that Romney was spending too much time fundraising.

“I’m going to make sure that people understand that this is a different direction for the nation,” Romney said yesterday in an interview with ABC News. “If they want the status quo, they can re-elect the person who has been leading us over the last four years.”

The change in tone isn’t the first time Romney’s campaign has promised a reset. Last week, Gillespie said the campaign would shift its message to give “more specifics” about his plans, after Romney’s initial statement on the killings in Libya received bipartisan condemnation.

Aides have dismissed the criticism, saying that Romney’s remarks were consistent with his view on foreign policy and the positions he described in his 2010 book, “No Apology.”

Longstanding Allies

Romney, they said, thinks that Obama and his team have focused on trying to forge relationships with countries that pose a threat to the U.S., such as Iran, at the expense of longstanding allies, including Israel.

“Um, bumps in the road?” Romney told more than 1,500 people gathered for an outdoor rally in Pueblo yesterday. “We had an ambassador assassinated, we had a Muslim Brotherhood member elected to the presidency of Egypt, 20,000 people have been killed in Syria, we have tumult in Pakistan, and, of course, Iran is that much closer to having the capacity to build a nuclear weapon.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Lerer in Pueblo, Colorado at llerer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net

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