The Washington Times - October 14, 2012, 09:31AM

Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs on Sunday defended the White House and its handling of the Sept. 11 attack in Libya, dismissing critics of the president as “wingtip cowboys.”

“I think what we need to do is stop playing politics with this issue,” Mr. Gibbs said in an appearance Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

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“We don’t need wingtip cowboys. We don’t need shoot-from-the-hip diplomacy. And when Mitt Romney first responded to what was going on in Libya, his own party called him out for insensitivity. He has done nothing but politicize this issue, when what we need to do is find out what happened, and do that as Americans, not as Democrats and Republicans.”

Mr. Gibbs was one of a bevy of campaign surrogates who hit the Sunday-morning talk-show circuit as the candidates looked to manage expectations ahead of Tuesday night’s second presidential debate between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney.

“The president will be very forward-looking, very conscious of making sure people understand the choice in this election,” Mr. Gibbs said. “There’s a very big difference in how each of these candidates sees the economy going forward — whether we’re going to invest in the middle class or cut taxes on the wealthy and hope it all trickles down.”

Mr. Gibbs acknowledged that Mr. Romney’s performance in the Oct. 3 debate caught the president by surprise.

“I think Mitt Romney’s performance was indeed magical and theatrical. Magical and theatrical largely because for 90 minutes he walked away from a campaign he’d been running for more than six years previous to that,” Mr. Gibbs said.

The Romney campaign has surged in national polls since the debate, but Mr. Gibbs pointed out that the president is still holding a lead in Ohio.

“In terms of polling, sure, a couple of states in some places have gotten tighter. But look … a poll in Ohio last night that had the president up 5, which is better than he was two weeks ago in that state. I think its because people in Ohio and people in these battleground states understand that Mitt Romney can walk away from his positions in a 90-minute debate, but they can’t walk away from the campaign and the record that he’s established.”