NEW YORK (Reuters) - Republican Mitt Romney accused Barack Obama of politicizing the killing of Osama bin Laden, while the U.S. president flew to Afghanistan on the first anniversary of the daring raid.
Although overshadowed by Obama’s unannounced trip, Romney staged some September 11 symbolism of his own, eating pizza with firefighters and former mayor Rudy Giuliani at a Manhattan firehouse that lost 11 firefighters in the 2001 attacks.
The former Massachusetts governor tried for the second day to push back against claims by the Obama camp that he might not have given the order to kill bin Laden if he had been president.
“I think it was very disappointing for the president to make this a political item by suggesting that I wouldn’t have ordered such a raid. Of course I would have. Any American, any thinking American, would have ordered exactly the same thing,” Romney told CBS’ “This Morning.”
Later, he told reporters, “Had I been president of the United States, I would have made the same decision as the president made.”
Around the time Romney spoke, Obama was landing secretly in Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base before visiting Kabul. He was to deliver a televised address to Americans on Tuesday, in remarks to remind voters of his presidential clout.
Obama backers are quick to point to remarks Romney made in his 2008 race for president when then-candidate Obama said he would go after “high-value terrorist targets” within Pakistan with or without the approval of Pakistan’s president.
Romney at the time said he did not agree, and refused on Tuesday to back off those comments.
“It was a very, if you will, fragile and flammable time in Pakistan, but I thought it was a mistake for (Obama), as a candidate for the presidency of the United States, to announce that he would go in,” Romney said in New York.
He acknowledged earlier that Obama “has every right to take credit for commanding that attack” that killed bin Laden.
Both sides are engaging in brutal campaign tactics to try to get a leg up on the other in a race that is already close and figures to be for the next six months until the November 6 election, when voters will decide whether to give Obama a second term or install former businessman Romney.
The Obama campaign opened a new front with a television ad to run in the battleground states of Virginia, Ohio and Iowa.
It accuses Romney, a former private equity executive, of backing policies that would lead to the outsourcing of American jobs overseas.
“As a corporate CEO, he shipped American jobs to places like Mexico and China,” the ad’s voiceover says.
In response, the Romney campaign accused Obama of seeking to take attention away from the president’s handling of the U.S. economy, still struggling with 8.2 percent unemployment.
“With the worst job creation record in modern history and the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression, President Obama is trying to distract Americans from the real issues with a series of sideshows,” said Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg.
The Obama campaign is seeking to raise doubts about how Romney would deal with the U.S. economy, faced with polls showing Americans believe Romney would handle economic affairs better than the president.
Where Romney lags Obama is on personal likability, a point that his wife, Ann Romney, attempted to address in the CBS interview.
“He’s funny,” she said. “I still look at him as this, this is the boy that I met, in high school, when he was pulling all the jokes, and really just being crazy. Pretty crazy. So there’s a wild and crazy man inside of him ... just waiting to come out,” Ann Romney said.
Romney, seeking to bolster ties among conservatives who were suspicious of him throughout a long primary battle, is to meet with his last major conservative challenger, Rick Santorum, on Friday but an endorsement is not expected.
Another rival, former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, is to formally withdraw from the race on Wednesday.
Romney met New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday, sources close to both men said, in what may be a bid by the presumptive nominee to seek the popular mayor’s endorsement.
Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Deborah Charles in Washington, Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Alistair Bell and Jackie Frank