GOLDEN, Colo. -- President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney entered new political terrain Thursday as their campaign debate moved more solidly onto issues of foreign policy, a subject that had largely been absent as a major general election issue until this week.
With the killings of four Americans in Libya thrusting foreign policy to the forefront of the race, Romney sought to broaden his indictment of Obama's approach to the world a day after he was roundly criticized for his initial reaction to the president's handling of the crisis in Libya and Egypt.
But officials in the Obama campaign were almost welcoming the fight, saying they were glad to be challenged on what they now consider the comfortable territory of foreign policy.
For instance, in the last national New York Times/CBS poll, in July, 47 percent of respondents said Obama would do a better job on foreign policy; 40 percent said that about Romney.
Obama's aides said that rather than sparring with Romney and politicizing the turmoil, the president was best served politically by focusing on his day job managing the situation.
Yet despite the rapidly unfolding events in the Mideast, Obama decided to continue his campaign schedule, and he spent the second day of what was to be an upbeat swing through the politically vital Mountain West on Thursday balancing the somber tone that a foreign policy crisis demands and the partisan speech that 8,000 Coloradans came to hear in
At an outdoor rally where the crowd was so primed with excitement that it cheered a flock of honking geese that flew overhead before the president spoke, Obama began with a sad reminder of the four Americans' deaths in Libya.
"Obviously, our hearts are heavy this week," Obama said, as a hush went across the field. But he vowed to his wider TV audience, "I want people around the world to hear me -- to all those who would do us harm: No act of terror will go unpunished," adding, "no act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America."
One word went unspoken: Romney. Instead, Obama only referred to his "opponent," which aides said was prompted by the president's desire to remain mindful of the tone of his political oratory as the Mideast crisis continues to unfold.
But his aides acknowledged that they were watching the developments overseas carefully, with the prospect that if violent protests continue he could face new questions about his approach to handling the nascent democracies in Egypt and Libya.
Even as the Obama campaign expressed confidence on the foreign policy front, it was being pressed on a statement Obama made in an interview with the Spanish-language network Telemundo that he did not consider the new Egyptian government an ally, though he also said he did not consider it an enemy, either.
Obama's press secretary, Jay Carney, said, "The president, in diplomatic and legal terms, was speaking correctly."
He said Obama was using "ally" as a "legal term of art," noting, "We do not have an alliance treaty with Egypt."
"But as the president has said, Egypt is a long-standing and close partner of the United States," he said, "and we have built on that foundation in supporting Egypt's transition to democracy and working with the new government."
Romney, in an appearance in Virginia, said that under his presidency the United States would regain its role in shaping events in the volatile region.