WASHINGTON: Republican challenger Mitt Romney prepared Tuesday for his first debate against President Barack Obama, badly needing a stellar performance Wednesday to turn the tide of polling five weeks before the Nov. 6 election.
Obama leads in many of the nine battleground states that will decide the election, and all but two of those states have early voting, meaning more people are already locking in their votes every day.
Romney contends his top issue is strengthening the U.S. economy and creating jobs, issues that are most important among voters. But the former Massachusetts governor is also attacking Obama on foreign policy after Muslim anger over an amateur anti-Islam film made in the U.S. sparked violent attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions.
“For the last four years, we’ve had a foreign policy led by a president who believes that the strength of his personality is going to get people to do the right things. Well, we’ve seen fires burning in U.S. embassies around the world,” Romney told voters in Colorado Monday, echoing a column he published in The Wall Street Journal that day.
The Obama campaign, however, called Romney’s foreign policy stances “incoherent.”
Though Romney’s campaign once talked about nothing but the still-weak economy, the multimillionaire businessman recently turned to subjects including wealth distribution as he has looked for any chance to gain ground.
Romney brought up immigration in an interview published Tuesday by The Denver Post in Colorado, saying he would honor temporary work permits for young illegal immigrants who were allowed to stay in the U.S. because of an executive order Obama signed this year.
The candidates are fighting a heated battle for Colorado, whose significant Hispanic population could determine who wins the state. Romney earlier this year was aggressive on immigration, saying he approved of “self-deportation,” where illegal workers would choose to leave the U.S. on their own. He also said he would veto legislation to provide a path to citizenship for some of the young people who will benefit from Obama’s executive order.
Obama retreated Tuesday to a desert resort in Nevada for three days of intensive debate preparation. Top advisers are focused on helping him trim his often-lengthy explanations. Equally important is coaching Obama to look calm and presidential during an expected onslaught of criticism from Romney.
Romney spent more than eight days in September holding mock debates and sparring with Sen. Rob Portman, who stood in for Obama. Romney planned another day of preparation Tuesday at his hotel in Colorado, the site of Wednesday’s debate.
The first debate will deal with domestic policies. But Romney has been trying to force Obama to answer for recent turmoil in places like Libya.
The Obama campaign reacted dismissively, noting that Osama bin Laden is dead and arguing that the administration has taken a hard line on Iran to dissuade it from creating a nuclear weapon.
“There is no op-ed or no speech which we’ve heard he may or may not give at some point that is going to change the view of the American people that he has been reckless, erratic and irresponsible on foreign policy issues every time he has had an opportunity to speak to them,” campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday.