Mitt Romney's overtly political response to Tuesday's attacks on American diplomatic posts in Egypt and Libya drew fire from both the left and right, but some Republicans said the flare-up gives him an opening to further paint President Obama as the heir to President Carter.
In an election heretofore dominated by domestic issues, the embassy attacks have now added a foreign-policy crisis to the mix, which GOP strategists and analysts said is reminiscent of the Iranian hostage situation that made Mr. Carter look weak and ineffectual in the 1980 presidential elections.
"The 2012 election is similar to 1980, when you had a foreign crisis in the Mideast and a bad economy at home," said American Crossroads chairman and former Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan.
Foreign policy had been considered a strong point for Mr. Obama heading into the election. He had wound down the war in Iraq, had overseen American efforts to help oust Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi and had approved the daring attack that killed terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.
But the diplomatic post attacks — including another overnight in Yemen — provide images, such as an American ambassador's body being dragged in the street, that could feed the comparisons.
Evangelical organizer David Lane, founder of the California-based Pastors and Pews, said that America's "39th president was the last president who created such instability with the U.S. economy and foreign policy: the byproduct was turmoil in the world. Barack Obama, meet Jimmy Carter."
Democrats have rejected the comparison, and Mr. Obama was harsh in his evaluation of the way Mr. Romney has handled the situation, saying the Republican candidate has a tendency to "shoot first and aim later."
"As president you can't do that," Mr. Obama told CBS News in an interview the White House read out to reporters traveling with the president on Wednesday.
Some Republicans distanced themselves from Mr. Romney's remarks, which accused the administration of blaming Americans' exercise of free speech rather than the attackers. That criticism was based on a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Egypt.
But other analysts defended Mr. Romney's handling of the situation.
"Romney's condemnation of the apology wasn't embarrassing or too early; it was correct, it was timely, and the only beef commentators have with it is that the White House didn't issue it first," said Danielle Pletka, American Enterprise Institute vice president for foreign- and defense-policy studies.
"The White House still doesn't get it," Ms. Pletka said. "Look no farther than the difference between the Obama and [Secretary of State Hillary Rodham] Clinton statements — Obama equivocates and Clinton condemns."
She noted that Mr. Obama said, "While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants."
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Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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