The Washington Times - October 11, 2012, 06:41PM

Mitt Romney on Thursday elevated the Benghazi terrorist attack to the forefront of the presidential campaign, saying President Obama and his campaign are politicizing the issue rather than explaining why the administration botched the initial response.

Earlier in the day Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter told CNN that “the entire reason” the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, has become a major political issue is that Mr. Romney and running mate Paul Ryan use it on the campaign trail. She called that “reckless and irresponsible.”

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But Mr. Romney, who had raised the issue but personally had shied away from pointed criticism of Mr. Obama, angrily fired back late Thursday, saying that Mr. Obama and his team are missing the seriousness of the attack.

“No President Obama, it’s an issue because this is the first time in 33 years that a U.S. ambassador has been assassinated. Mr. President, this is an issue because we were attacked successfully by terrorists on the anniversary of 9/11,” Mr. Romney said at an evening rally in North Carolina.

Initially the White House and administration officials had said the attack in Benghazi was a protest against an anti-Islam video, but after weeks of pressure they acknowledged that the attack was in fact a terrorist assault on the U.S. compound, and that there never was any protest.

The attack occurred on Sept. 11, on the 11th anniversary of al Qaeda’s attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said Mr. Romney’s remarks underscored their claim he is politicizing the issue.

“While President Obama has been focused on getting the facts, finding the terrorists responsible, and bringing them to justice, Mitt Romney has attempted to use the tragedy to his political advantage,” she said.