Mitt Romney accused Barack Obama of a tendency to “say things that aren’t true”, as the Republican challenger came under mounting pressure from a series of polls that showed him trailing in key battleground states.
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After a week in which Mr Romney was heavily criticised by members of both parties for political point-scoring following the death of the Chris Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, the former Massachusetts governor said he was now looking forward to locking horns with Mr Obama in next month’s first Presidential Debate.
“I think the challenge that I’ll have in the debate is that the president tends to – how shall I say it? – say things that aren’t true,” he said in an interview with ABC News.
Mr Romney, who has been practicing hard for the debates, added that he was still undecided on how best to tackle his opponent.
“It’s difficult to say, well, am I going to spend my time correcting things that aren’t quite accurate? Or am I going to spend my time talking about the things I want to talk about.”
Although Mr Romney is trailing Mr Obama by just 3.2 per cent nationally, a new poll on Friday showed him trailing dangerously in the pivotal swing states of Ohio, Florida and Virginia which analysts say he must win at least two out of three if he is to win.
According the NBC News/WSJ/Marist Poll survey Mr Obama was up seven points in Ohio (50-43), five in Virginia (49-44) and five in Florida (49-44).
The Romney campaign countered that the survey, which was taken after the Democratic Convention, reflected the ‘bounce’ Mr Obama was expected to get, and predicted that the weak economy would narrow the numbers as election day approached.
However the survey chimed with reports of both parties’ own private polling in Ohio and a recent Gallup survey showing Mr Obama’s own support, which had been stuck around 46 per cent since May, now hitting the critical 50 per cent mark.
Mr Romney said he was unconcerned, predicting that polls would “bounce around” a lot before November 6.
“I’m ahead in a lot of other states, too. I saw one this morning, ahead in Florida, ahead in North Carolina. Gosh, we’re even tied in Wisconsin,” Mr Romney said.
Mr Romney also risked giving fresh ammunition to Democrat attempts to paint him as an elitist, by describing “middle income” as people earning “$250,000 or less” (£154,000) — a figure five times the US median income of $52,000.
Mr Romney attracted some derision for the remark to ABC News, although supporters point out that Mr Obama has used the same $250,000 threshold to separate ordinary earners from the ‘rich’ — on whom, unlike Republicans, he wants to raise taxes.
On the campaign trail, Mr Romney has returned his focus to the economy, although he attempted to take back some ground on foreign policy, sending out surrogates to argue that the Middle East protests would not have happened under a Romney administration.
Richard Williamson, a key adviser who is a former assistant secretary of state and ambassador, compared Mr Obama’s international leadership to Jimmy Carter, and accused him of failing to nurture a proper relationship with Egypt’s new government.
“The president can’t even keep track of who’s our ally or not. This is amateur hour,” Mr Williamson told the Washington Post, adding “For the first time since Jimmy Carter, we’ve had an American ambassador assassinated.”
He added that Mr Romney would have taken a tougher line with Iran, been quicker to arm Syrian rebel groups and demanded more of Egypt’s new government in return for US financial support.
In reply, the Obama campaign accused Mr Romney of trying to “shamelessly politicise a sensitive international situation” while demonstrating that he was “not at all prepared” to manage the kinds of crises faced by a US president.
Separately, Mr Romney also drew fire from Beijing yesterday after putting out an advertisement attacking Mr Obama for his failure get tough with China for its predatory trade policies and declare the world’s second-largest economy a currency manipulator.
The attack drew fierce criticism from China’s state-run news organisations, who said they were “false as they are foolish”, accusing Mr Romney of “mud-slinging” tactics that could cause a trade war between the world’s two largest economies.
“It is ironic that a considerable portion of this China-battering politician’s wealth was actually obtained by doing business with Chinese companies before he entered politics,” added the commentary from the official Xinhua news agency.