WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney is intensifying his efforts to draw a sharp contrast with President Obama on national security in the campaign’s closing stages, portraying Mr. Obama as mishandling the tumult in the Arab world and leaving the nation exposed to a terrorist attack in Libya.
In a speech today at the Virginia Military Institute, Mr. Romney will declare “hope is not a strategy” for dealing with the rise of Islamist governments in the Mideast or an Iran racing toward the capability to build a nuclear weapon, according to excerpts released by his campaign.
Mr. Romney’s argument is he would return the United States to an earlier era, one that would result, as his young foreign policy director, Alex Wong, said Sunday, in “the restoration of a strategy that served us well for 70 years.”
But the GOP nominee has yet to fill in details of how he would conduct policy toward the rest of the world or resolve deep ideological rifts within the Republican Party and his own foreign policy team. On Sunday-morning talk shows, the campaigns traded accusations of lies and distortions as the race headed into its final month.
The Romney camp released a TV ad accusing Mr. Obama of “not telling the truth about Mitt Romney’s tax plan.” Romney supporters repeated the charge on the talk shows.
“We know it’s not true what they’re saying about his tax plan,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.) said on Fox News Sunday.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who said during the GOP primaries that Mr. Romney was running a “fundamentally dishonest campaign,” came to his former opponent’s defense. “The charges on the tax cuts are just plain wrong,” Mr. Gingrich said.
But Mr. Obama’s aides and supporters pressed their assertions that Mr. Romney’s tax plan doesn’t add up and that he misled voters during the debate.
“It was a masterful theatrical performance. It was fundamentally dishonest for the American people,” Robert Gibbs, an adviser to the President’s campaign, said on ABC’s This Week.
“This was what he used to do in private business,” Obama adviser David Axelrod said on CBS’ Face the Nation. “You have the ‘closer’ at Bain Capital and the basic theory is say whatever you need to get the deal and that’s what he did that night.”
He said Mr. Romney was “dishonest in his answers” and gave “a Gantry-esque performance,” a reference to the fictional dishonest evangelist Elmer Gantry.
The Romney campaign sought to build on the former Massachusetts governor’s performance in the first of three presidential debates.
“The debate was a reset of this campaign,” Ms. Ayotte said.
Republican Mike DeWine, attorney general in the battleground state of Ohio, agreed.
“This race fundamentally changed Wednesday night in Ohio and across the country,” Mr. DeWine said.
“The President … couldn’t defend the last four years,” Mr. DeWine, a former U.S. senator, said on CNN’s State of the Union. “Maybe that’s not because he’s not a good debater. We know he’s a good debater. He couldn’t defend the last four years because you can’t defend it. You can’t defend not getting the job done.”
Democrats said Mr. Obama was not happy with his performance and would improve in the upcoming debates.
The President went to California on Sunday for a two-day swing to raise millions of dollars from celebrities and wealthy donors.
Mr. Romney, campaigning in Florida, sought to build on the momentum from last week’s debate performance.
The Republican told a crowd of about 12,000 in Port St. Lucie that he had enjoyed himself, ticking off a list of Obama shortcomings he said he had exposed during the first debate.
“Now of course, days later, we’re hearing his excuses,” Mr. Romney said. “And next January we’ll be watching him leave the White House for the last time.”
Mr. Romney’s planned foreign policy address at VMI is aimed at throwing Mr. Obama on his heels over his handling of unrest in Libya and elsewhere.
Obama campaign spokesman Jennifer Psaki, dismissing what she called Mr. Romney’s fourth or fifth attempt to explain his global intentions, said the bar is high for Mr. Romney to convince voters he’s ready to be commander in chief.
“We are not going to be lectured by someone who’s been an unmitigated disaster on foreign policy every time he sticks his toe in the foreign policy waters,” Ms. Psaki said.
As Mr. Obama sought California cash, his surrogates took to the talk shows to pound the theme that Mr. Romney’s success in last week’s debate was propped up entirely by dishonesty.
The President “was a little taken aback at the brazenness with which Governor Romney walked away from so many of the positions on which he’s run, walked away from his record,” Mr. Axelrod said.
“That’s something we’re going to have to make an adjustment for in these subsequent debates.”
At the same time, Ann Romney tried to soften her husband’s image, a frequent refrain as the Romney camp seeks to broaden his support among centrist voters.
Introducing her husband Sunday, she called him “a good and decent person” who had helped others throughout his life. “Now we’re going to get a chance for him to really care for others, because we’re going to have the chance to see him get people back to work again,” she said.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Sunday indicated Mr. Romney stayed within striking distance of Mr. Obama, 2 points behind the Democrat for the third day.
The online survey found 47 percent of likely voters said they would vote for Mr. Obama and 45 percent for Mr. Romney if the Nov. 6 election were held now.
That total reflects an improvement by the Republican, who had trailed Mr. Obama by 6 points in the same daily poll going into the debate.
In Sunday’s poll, 8 percent of registered voters said they already had voted early in person or by absentee ballot, while 84 percent said they had “definitely” decided which candidate would get their vote, leaving only 16 percent saying they may change their mind.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted Oct. 3-7. The poll interviewed 1,745 registered voters and 1,490 likely voters.