Romney Courts Military, Obama Woos Latinos in Tight Race

With polls showing the election tightening, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are appealing to core constituencies, with the Republican challenger using two visits in Virginia to reach out to military voters and the president wooing Hispanic support.

Romney, buoyed by his victory in the presidential debate last week, struck an assured tone. “People wonder why it is I’m so confident we’re going to win,” a soaked Romney told several hundred supporters standing in the rain at a rally yesterday in Newport News, Virginia. “I’m confident because I see you here on a day like this.”

Less than a month before the Nov. 6 election and with early balloting under way in several competitive states, both candidates are sharpening the contrasts between their positions to rally supporters and win over those who are undecided.

“I am pretty competitive,” Obama told a group of donors in San Francisco yesterday. “I very much intend to win this election.” The president, criticized for what was generally regarded as a lackluster debate performance last week, urged his supporters to be “almost obsessive over the next 29 days” to help him win re-election.

Romney, in an effort to gain stature as a credible alternative for independent voters, intensified his foreign policy attacks on Obama yesterday in a speech at the Virginia Military Institute, prompting Obama’s campaign to fire back that Romney is criticizing the president with “swagger and slogans.”

Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney delivers a foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute on October 8, 2012 in Lexington, Virginia. Close

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney delivers a... Read More

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Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney delivers a foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute on October 8, 2012 in Lexington, Virginia.

Fifth Visit

At the rally later, Romney repeated his promises to expand military spending. He addressed voters at the Victory Landing Park in Newport News, an area that’s home to the world’s largest U.S. Navy base and private shipyards, during his fifth visit to the swing state in the last four weeks.

Obama spent the day in California, which last voted for a Republican presidential candidate almost a quarter century ago. The centerpiece of his visit yesterday, remarks at the declaration of a national monument at the home of farm organizer Cesar Chavez, was an official event that carried a political benefit of appealing to Hispanic voters in states such as Nevada and Florida.

The president is in Ohio today to rally young voters and encourage early voting. Yesterday, his aides and supporters stayed focused on Romney, organizing a conference call with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who called his foreign-policy positions “very shallow” and “free of substance.”

Romney Lead

A poll released yesterday showed Romney taking the lead in the race after his debate performance on Oct. 3 in Denver. Romney leads Obama by four percentage points among likely voters, according to a national Pew Research Center survey taken Oct. 4-7 with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

A Pew poll of likely voters taken Sept. 12-16 gave Obama a 51 percent to 43 percent lead, the widest margin of any nominee since Bill Clinton in 1996.

Both campaigns were preparing for the next round of debates, with Vice President Joe Biden and Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, facing off on Oct. 11 and the presidential candidates meeting in Hempstead, New York, five days later.

Romney’s effort to round out his national security credentials before the next debate follows a campaign where he has focused almost exclusively on the domestic economy.

‘Great Power’

Speaking to white-uniformed cadets yesterday morning, Romney called for an assertion of U.S. power in the world, charging Obama with endangering national interests by allowing long-time alliances to fray and international tensions to fester.

“It is our responsibility and the responsibility of our president to use America’s great power to shape history, not to lead from behind, leaving our destiny at the mercy of events,” Romney said in Lexington, Virginia. “Unfortunately, that is exactly where we find ourselves.”

In an address that laid out few new details about what he would do differently, Romney criticized the president’s handling of developments in the Middle East and North Africa. He declared that “hope is not a strategy” for dealing with Iran’s efforts to gain a nuclear weapon and the rise of Islamist governments in the region.

Obama’s campaign sees foreign policy as a major strength for the president, who can claim credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden and is winding down U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Libya Attacks

Republicans argue that questions about the administration’s handling of the attacks in Libya that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, give Romney an opening to regain ground on an issue that has traditionally been viewed as a Republican strength.

Romney played down the importance of Obama’s foreign policy successes, saying al-Qaeda remains a strong force in the region even with the killing of bin Laden and an increase in U.S. drone strikes on terrorist targets.

“America can take pride in the blows that our military and intelligence professionals have inflicted on al-Qaeda,” he said, yet such operations “ are no substitute for a national security strategy for the Middle East.”

Forceful Approach

Speaking at the alma mater of the late former Secretary of State General George C. Marshall, Romney sought to place himself in line with the bipartisan approach to U.S. foreign policy of decades past that Marshall personified.

“America has a proud history of strong, confident, principled global leadership -- a history that has been written by patriots of both parties,” Romney said. “Unfortunately, this president’s policies have not been equal to our best examples of world leadership.”

The speech also promoted a stance more often associated with former President George W. Bush, including a call for a more forceful approach than Obama has taken to developments overseas and a larger defense budget to deter potential adversaries.

Romney built on his plan to take a tougher line on Iran, including the imposition of stiffer sanctions than the president has set and the restoration of permanently stationed aircraft- carrier task forces in the region.

He also called for U.S. assistance to opposition fighters in the Syrian civil war, pledging to work with allies to arm rebels who “share our values” and want to defeat President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria Aid

“It is essential that we develop influence with those forces in Syria that will one day lead a country that sits at the heart of the Middle East,” Romney said.

The Obama administration already is providing non-lethal aid, including communications gear the Syrian government can’t track, to opposition groups and is supporting Saudi and Qatari weapons and other military aid, administration officials have said.

“What exactly are they suggesting we do?” Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters traveling with the president in California. “If they’re going farther, they should say that.”

In a memorandum circulated by Obama’s campaign with a new advertisement before Romney’s speech, foreign policy aides said the Republican challenger hasn’t offered specifics about how he would end the war in Afghanistan, deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions or confront unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.

Policy Bumbler

Romney, wrote Michele Flournoy and Colin Kahl, has “repeatedly taken positions outside of the mainstream and often to the right of even George W. Bush.”

The Obama campaign’s ad portrays Romney as a bumbler on foreign policy, highlighting criticism he received for his conduct during a July trip to Europe and his haste to attack the administration after the killing of Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi on Sept. 11.

“If this is how he handles the world now, just think of what Mitt Romney might do as president,” the ad says.

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

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

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