- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2012

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 U.S. 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.”

But Mr. Romney, who raised the issue but personally shied away from pointed criticism of Mr. Obama, fired back late Thursday, saying 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, questioning why it took so long for the administration to acknowledge the terrorist assault.

He said Americans “deserve serious answers” from the president and called the entire episode a window into Mr. Obama’s handling of “the challenges that we face here in America.”

Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said Mr. Romney’s remarks underscored her side’s claim that the Republican challenger 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.

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

At a congressional hearing on the matter Wednesday, Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy said the administration was relying on the best available intelligence when it blamed the video.

State Department officials had rejected requests for additional security in Libya even as violence spiked in Benghazi in the months before the attack.

The back-and-forth came just hours before Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney were set to turn the national stage over to their running mates, Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin.

Mr. Obama called Mr. Biden from Air Force One to wish him luck, while Mr. Romney and some of Mr. Ryan’s colleagues from Congress called him just before the evening rally in North Carolina.

The two presidential candidates face off Tuesday in Hempstead, N.Y., and debate again Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

Mr. Obama spent Thursday campaigning in Florida, trying to explain away his own stumble during last week’s debate, which most voters say he lost handily.

Mr. Obama said Mr. Romney shifted positions during the debate, making it tougher for the president to attack him.

“The centerpiece of Gov. Romney’s economic plan is a $5 trillion tax cut that favors the wealthiest,” Mr. Obama told thousands of cheering supporters at the University of Miami. “Gov. Romney has been pitching this plan for almost a year now. You wouldn’t know this from listening to the latest version of Mitt Romney. He’s trying to go through an extreme makeover. After saying he was severely conservative, Mitt Romney is trying to convince you that he was severely kidding.”

It was Mr. Obama’s fifth visit to a college campus since he “had a bad night,” in his words, in the first presidential debate against Mr. Romney. The president urged young voters to take advantage of Florida’s early-voting law, which allows ballots to be cast beginning Oct. 27.

Mr. Romney has been riding a wave of enthusiasm among Republicans in the wake of last week’s debate.

Numbers by HighBeam Research, which tracks press coverage, found he also has benefited from a bump in press coverage. In the five days leading up to the debate, he and Mr. Obama split media attention about evenly. But in the five days after the debate, Mr. Romney earned 56 percent of the attention.

Before his evening rally, Mr. Romney met with the Rev. Billy Graham and his son, the Rev. Franklin Graham, which the Republican candidate called “the chance of a lifetime.”

They prayed together, according to a Romney campaign adviser who sat in on the private meeting.

“I’ll do all I can to help you. And you can quote me on that,” the elder Mr. Graham told Mr. Romney, according campaign staffer Mark DeMoss.

Dave Boyer reported from Coral Gables, Fla.



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