"I can't imagine saying something like the assassination of ambassadors is a bump in the road," Romney said in an interview with ABC News. White House spokesman Jay Carney responded that any assertion that Obama is minimizing the killing of a U.S. ambassador and other Americans serving overseas "is both desperate and offensive."
Romney's campaign is looking to push the debate away from the candidate's recent stumbles and reverse the leads Obama has opened in polls of swing state voters. Romney senior adviser Ed Gillespie told reporters Monday that the candidate would be drawing sharper contrasts with Obama and responding to the news of the day when warranted.
And that's just what Romney did by quickly arranging interviews with the television network reporters traveling with him in Colorado.
Romney reacted to an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS "60 Minutes" in which Obama was asked whether recent events in the Mideast have given him pause about supporting the governments that came to power after the Arab spring. Obama said he believed it was right to align with forces of democracy and universal rights.
"But I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road because, you know, in a lot of these places the one organizing principle has been Islam," Obama said. "The one part of society that hasn't been controlled completely by the government. There are strains of extremism and anti-Americanism and anti-Western sentiments. And you know can be tapped into by demagogues. There will probably be some times where we bump up against some of these countries and have strong disagreements. But I do think that over the long term we are more likely to get a Middle East and North Africa that is more peaceful, more prosperous and more aligned with our interests."
In the interviews and at a rally shortly afterward, Romney said he views events in the Middle East differently.
"He said the developments in the Middle East are bumps in the road," Romney said to a chorus of boos from supporters gathered to greet his plane on the tarmac in Pueblo, Colo. "Yeah, that was my reaction. Um, bumps in the road? We had an ambassador assassinated, we had a Muslim Brotherhood member elected to the presidency of Egypt, 20,000 people have been killed in Syria, we have tumult in Pakistan, and, of course, Iran is that much closer to having the capacity to build a nuclear weapon.
"These are not bumps in the road, these are human lives. These are developments that we don't want to see," Romney said.
Carney, speaking from the White House shortly before the president left for a taped interview with "The View" and meetings at the United Nations, said Obama was not minimizing the historic transformation taking place overseas or the challenges they have created.
"There is a certain rather desperate attempt to grasp at words and phrases here to find political advantage. And in this case that's profoundly offensive," Carney said.
The candidates also sparred in dueling new television commercials aimed at winning working-class voters by pitting Romney's wealth against the loss of American jobs to China under Obama.
Obama's campaign began running its first spot using Romney's comments that 47 percent of voters pay no income tax, and believe they are victims and entitled to government assistance. The 30-second ad airing in Ohio also highlights that Romney paid 14.1 percent in federal taxes last year on $13.7 million in income, and refuses to release his returns before 2010.
"Maybe instead of attacking others on taxes, he should come clean on his," the ad says.
Romney is trying to shift the debate off his personal wealth and private comments to donors and to worker resentment over jobs moving to China. His new ad released Monday is his latest salvo in a string of criticism against Obama's handling of the rising Asian power.
The commercial showed a photo of a shuttered factory and says fewer Americans are working as China steals the country's ideas and technology. "Obama had years to stand up to China. We can't afford four more," the spot concludes.
Pickler reported from Washington.