Romney switches back to economy

2012-09-13 20:05

Washington - Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney veered away from a blistering two days of ill-timed attacks on President Barack Obama's handling of foreign affairs on Thursday, and instead steered to safer political ground: the struggling American economy.

At a campaign appearance in Virginia, Romney returned to his standing promises to revitalize the US economy, which he said is a first requirement for continued American military dominance.

Recalling Obama's successful 2008 campaign message of hope and change, Romney told his audience in a Washington suburb: "We want real changes, I'm going to bring real change and get America working again."

Romney's dramatic move back to campaigning on the US economy, the No 1 issue for American voters, followed heavy political fire from Obama, congressional Democrats and even some powerful Republican voices. He was roundly criticised for seeking political advantage by accusing the president of apologizing to radical Islamists as they killed a US ambassador and three other diplomatic workers in Libya and attacked the US embassy in Egypt. Romney briefly mentioned them on Thursday.

Shortly afterwards, Obama spoke in Golden, Colorado, offering deep praise to the diplomats, soldiers and intelligence agents who work in dangerous places around the world to keep the country safe.

And he vowed "going to bring those who killed our fellow Americans to justice... No act of terror will go unpunished. It will not dim the light of the values we proudly present to the world.

From there, Obama, like Romney, moved back toward arguments about the economy, a topic that the Democrats must be feeling more comfortable in recent days. Some polls now show the president has gained ground, and sometimes surpassed his challenger, on the question of which man was best qualified to repair the economy.

Romney's message on Thursday was a reprise intended to remind voters of his long career in high finance and business as co-founder of Bain Capital, a private equity firm from which he amassed a quarter-billion dollar fortune.

The abrupt shift also came as the Federal Reserve said it will spend $40bn a month to purchase mortgaged-back securities because the economy is too weak to reduce high unemployment. The Fed said it will keep buying the securities until the job market shows substantial improvement.

Obama ahead

The Fed also extended a plan to keep short-term interest rates at record-low levels through mid-2015. Both steps were announced after the Fed's two-day policy meeting. The bond purchases are intended to lower long-term interest rates to spur borrowing and spending. The Fed has previously bought $2 trillion in Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities since the 2008 financial crisis.

The Republican's campaign apparatus apparently had realised that by moving away from Romney's economic message and hitting Obama on foreign affairs, the candidate was playing to the president's strength. Polls show voters far and away see the president as the best of the two candidates in handling foreign policy and security issues.

The economy, meanwhile, has been the top issue throughout the race, with recent surveys showing Romney with a narrow advantage over the president when it comes to plans for reducing the nation's unemployment rate of 8.1%.

Romney launched the attacks on Obama late on Tuesday, accusing him of showing weakness in responding to the attacks, the worst of which killed the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three American members of his staff. Romney's statement was released well before the full extent of the attack was known.

The assaults on US diplomatic missions began in Cairo. Romney blasted an initial statement from the US Embassy there as disgraceful and "akin to apology," adding later, "It's never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values."

However, the embassy statement came before the protesters had breached the embassy's walls and was an affirmation of the American policy of religious tolerance and respect, and was not cleared by the White House. A statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton minutes before Romney's was released condemned the attack in Libya and said there was no justification for such violent acts.

Obama made a sombre statement on Wednesday morning condemning the attacks and announcing plans to deploy additional Marines at diplomatic posts overseas. An additional US warship was dispatched to the Libyan coast. In an interview with CBS News' 60 Minutes later in the day, Obama said the episode showed Romney's penchant for having "a tendency to shoot first and aim later".

"It appears that Governor Romney didn't have his facts right," Obama said.

The four diplomats were killed on Tuesday as protesters overran and burned the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. That happened after the US Embassy in Cairo was breached by protesters, and the American flag was ripped down, although no deaths were reported.

By Thursday the violence spread as hundreds of protesters stormed the US Embassy compound in Yemen's capital, San'aa. They tore down and burned the US flag, replacing it with a black banner bearing Islam's declaration of faith - "There is no God but Allah."

American officials were investigating whether the attack in Libya was a terrorist strike timed to mark the 11th anniversary of the attacks of 11 September, 2001. Initial reports were that both the Libya and Egypt events had been motivated by anger over an anti-Muslim film made in the United States.

The Obama and Romney exchange occurred with less than eight weeks remaining in a tight presidential race, a campaign that has remained close for months and is being fiercely waged in fewer than 10 battleground states - Virginia and Colorado included - that don't consistently vote Democratic or Republican.