Mitt Romney speaks during a rally in Ashville, N.C. (Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images )
ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Mitt Romney lashed out at President Obama and his campaign for saying that the GOP ticket had politicized the killing of an ambassador and three other Americans in Libya, saying Thursday evening that their reaction shows that they do not understand the threats facing the nation.
“They said this and I quote: 'The entire reason this has become the political topic it is, is because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.' No, President Obama, it’s an issue because this is the first time in 33 years that a United States ambassador has been assassinated,” Romney told thousands of supporters in a stadium here. “Mr. President, this is an issue because we were attacked successfully by terrorists on the anniversary of 9/11. President Obama, this is an issue because Americans wonder why it was it took so long for you and your administration to admit that this was a terrorist attack.”
“This is a very serious issue,” he continued. “These are very serious questions, and the American people deserve serious answers and I hope they come soon.”
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Romney was referring not to an Obama comment but to one from his deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter. Cutter was being pressed on the matter on CNN earlier Thursday when she said, “The entire reason that this has become the, you know, political topic it is, is because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. It's a big part of their stump speech and it’s reckless and irresponsible what they’re doing."
The administration initially blamed the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on spontaneous protests over an anti-Muslim film produced in the United States. But it quickly came to light that the attack that resulted in the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was a coordinated terrorist assault. The administration is under scrutiny for not immediately labeling it as such, and questions have also been raised about why the diplomatic mission was not sufficiently protected.
The Obama campaign accused Romney of irresponsibly trying to score political points, and noted that his initial reaction to the attack was widely panned not only by political observers but by fellow Republicans.
“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,” said spokeswoman Lis Smith.
“The American people deserve better from someone auditioning to be commander-in-chief.”
Romney leveled his criticism during a raucous rally with several thousand supporters here, shortly before his running mate, Paul Ryan, was scheduled to go head-to-head with Vice President Joe Biden in a debate in Kentucky. House Speaker John A. Boehner mentioned the upcoming debate in his introduction of Romney.
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“I feel sorry for Joe Biden,” Boehner said. “Listen, I’ve known Paul Ryan for a long time – he put yard signs up for me when I was running for Congress 22 years ago when he was a [student] at Miami of Ohio. You’re never going to find a more decent human being – a great husband, a great father – and one of the smartest guys that we work with. He knows more about core growth economic policies that we believe in than anybody in the Congress. Poor Joe. He’s going to have his hands full.”
Romney also noted the pending debate, as well as his own well-regarded performance against Obama last week.
“Now I enjoyed my debate about a week ago, that was a good experience. And I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy tonight’s debate as well,” Romney said, and the crowd roared. “Because Paul Ryan and I are talking about substance, and issues that matter to the American people.”
Before the rally, Romney, Boehner, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman all spoke with Ryan over the phone for about five minutes and wished him luck.
Huckabee and Romney were bitter foes during the 2008 GOP presidential primaries,but as Huckabee introduced Romney, he made clear that their shared opposition to Obama overshadowed any differences between them.
"Folks, you know it is a tough time in America. And a desperate time and an urgent time. When a Baptist-minister-turned-Southern-governor will get up and endorse and enthusiastically beg you, urge you, plead with you to go out and get a guy from Massachusetts who is a Mormon to be elected president...,” Huckabee said. “But I am here tonight to tell you that is what we need to do!”