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Egypt embassy protests: Will Mitt Romney's comments matter in November? (+video)

Gaffes spoken in haste on the campaign trail can fade. But an inaccurate statement, geared for political advantage at a time of national crisis, could have a longer impact on the presidential race.

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“The administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions. It’s never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values,” said Romney.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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OK, so that was the spark that got this whole thing started. Since then, the pushback from Democrats has been ferocious. They accuse Romney of knowingly making inaccurate statements framed for political advantage at a time of national crisis. Obama himself, in an interview with CBS's “60 Minutes," said, “Governor Romney has a tendency to shoot first and aim later."

Few prominent Republicans initially defended Romney. GOP leaders on Capitol Hill issued general statements expressing sympathy for the families of the fallen diplomats and general support for the United States. Since then, however, some have begun to speak out on what they feel to be legitimate questions regarding the administration’s Middle East policies.

Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, Romney’s predecessor as GOP nominee, knew Ambassador Stevens and has publicly mourned the loss of a great US ambassador. But in an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday, Senator McCain added that “the fact is the United States in the Middle East is weak. We are seen as withdrawing, and we are paying a price for that weakness.... I hope that Mitt Romney will be looking at the big picture."

But wasn’t this election supposed to turn entirely on the economy? Any time Romney spends talking about US relations with Egypt, Iran, and Israel is time he does not spend highlighting American unemployment.

Of course, it’s possible that theory is no longer operable, and that Romney is looking to raise noneconomic subjects. Liberal blogger Greg Sargent Thursday in his Plum Line column in the Washington Post highlights four polls that show Obama and Romney tied on the question of whom voters think is best to handle the economy.

“This again raises the question of whether Romney’s basic theory of this race – that it’s inevitable that Obama will lose, because voters will conclude that he failed on the economy and will opt for an alternative that clears the most basic threshold of acceptability – is fundamentally flawed,” Mr. Sargent writes.

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