With only 50 days until American voters go to the polls, the general election rhetoric has swung sharply from a focus on the economy and jobs to foreign policy, national security and terrorism.
The shift has been significant for President Barack Obama, whose strongest poll numbers have remained on his handling of terrorism and foreign policy.
Today, the campaign of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney again criticized Obama for his handling of recent anti-American rallies and embassy attacks abroad.
"Amid all these threats and dangers, what we do not see is steady, consistent American leadership," Romney running mate Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan said at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. on Friday.
Romney campaign foreign policy advisor Richard Williamson took this argument a step farther, suggesting the attacks would not have taken place under a Romney administration.
"There's a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you'd be in a different situation," Williamson, also a former Ronald Reagan assistant secretary of state, said in an interview with the Washington Post on Thursday.
"I know there are things that can and should have been done" in the Middle East, Williamson added in a CNN interview Friday, saying the Obama administration did not "provide enough leadership" or guidance to states effected by the Arab Spring.
"For the first time since Jimmy Carter, we've had an American ambassador assassinated," Williamson noted.
The shift in Romney campaign strategy came Tuesday night, when there were reported attacks on U.S. embassies in response to a YouTube movie denigrating Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.
Soon after, the U.S. embassy in Cairo tweeted a tacit criticism of the movie, making clear its condemnation of "the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton soon after confirmed one American casualty. It was at this time Mitt Romney issued his first statement on the events.
"It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks," the Romney statement read.
After the White House did not take ownership of the Cairo statement, saying it was not ok'd by senior staff, Romney doubled-down on his critique, saying the "mixed messages" sent by the administration were "akin to an apology" to the attackers.
Early the next morning, Clinton confirmed the death of U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Benghazi consulate staffers.
On Thursday, Obama tried to quell the Republican outcry by saying he did not "try to question [diplomats'] judgment from the comfort of a campaign office."
But the attacks on his foreign policy continued Thursday and Friday, with a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Liz Cheney and attacks at today's Values Voter Summit.
In a press call today organized by Americans United for Change and national Catholic justice lobby NETWORK, faith leaders denied these criticisms and called the Romney campaign's politicizing of the attacks abroad "horrifying."
"Governor Romney did a real disservice not only to his own campaign and his reputation but really to the American election process," Jewish social justice group Bend the Arc CEO Alan van Capelle said.
In response to a RTTNews question, NETWORK executive director and leader of "Nuns of a Bus" campaign Sister Simone Campbell said, "I'm horrified that any candidates would use these startling and violent attacks for political fodder."
"At a moment of national sadness and real risk in the Middle East, we should be more about finding ways to end violence rather than stirring it up," Campbell added.
In the last two days, the Romney campaign has also reiterated its criticism of Obama's China policies, blasting the president for not designating the Asian giant a currency manipulator.
The Obama campaign shot back Friday, issuing a new television ad called "The Cheaters" that will air in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
"Romney's companies were called pioneers in shipping U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas," the ad's voice-over says, adding, "Even today part of Romney's fortune is invested in China."
"Romney's never stood up to China. All he's done is send them our jobs," the ad concluded.
The biting rhetoric over foreign policy is likely worrying Obama advisors. Obama has polled consistently higher than Romney in this arena for months - he held a 51 to 38 percent gap in a Tuesday ABC/Washington Post poll.
Obama advisors will likely try to steer Republicans away from the issue and back to the economy in the coming days. But with anti-American protests only spreading abroad, the issue will most likely dominate the campaign until the first presidential debate in Denver in October.
by RTT Staff Writer
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