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Can Mitt Romney damage Obama over Benghazi attack?

Attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, provided an opening to question Obama's handling of an international crisis – and Mitt Romney and the GOP are making the most of it. But they'll need to avoid bellicose statements that may alienate independent voters, one expert cautions.

By Staff writer / October 1, 2012

In this photo taken Sept. 27, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks in Springfield, Va. Republicans lashed out at President Obama and senior administration officials over their evolving description of the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the US consulate in Libya, a late campaign-season broadside challenging the veracity and leadership of an incumbent on the upswing.

Evan Vucci/AP

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Washington

Suddenly, Mitt Romney and the Republicans are attacking President Obama on an election issue on which the incumbent looked to be almost untouchable – foreign policy. Can it work?

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The events of Sept. 11 in Benghazi, Libya – the firebombing of the US consulate that resulted in the deaths of four American diplomats including the ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens – have provided an opening to question Mr. Obama’s handling of an international crisis, and in particular, of American security overseas, foreign policy experts say.

Yet Republicans face their own pitfalls in zeroing in on the previously barren soil of foreign policy.

One is that many independent voters, in particular, have an aversion to the kind of muscular rhetoric about how the US should act in the world that Mr. Romney and a number of his surrogates have used in their broadsides at Obama, says Aaron David Miller, a foreign policy specialist with long experience in both Republican and Democratic administrations.

“There are vulnerabilities [for Obama], for sure, that flow from the latest series of events. The questions that are resonating are about competency and whether there was too much nonchalance … about the security of our diplomats and our diplomatic missions,” says Mr. Miller, now a Middle East expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

Calling this new vulnerability on foreign policy “a clear shift in focus” on an issue where Obama seemed previously almost unassailable, Miller says, “Does it limit the president? Yes. But can it cost him the election? No.”

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