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Romney, Obama campaigns push forward as Mideast unrest spreads

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Sept. 14, 2012: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney puts his hand on his heart during a moment of silence for the embassy officials killed in Libya, as he campaigns in the rain at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio. (AP)

As Election Day nears, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is looking to recover from a tough week dominated by foreign policy as President Barack Obama balances campaigning for a second term with the duties of the Oval Office in the face of spreading anti-American violence in the Muslim world.

It is a delicate balance of politics and policy for Obama as the world watches. For his part, former businessman Romney is working to refocus attention on the nation's economy and broaden his appeal with polls giving the Democratic incumbent a narrow, but stubborn, lead.

The election is little more than seven weeks away.

"I'm doing well. I'm virtually tied in the polls, some days up, some days down a point or two," Romney said in an interview that aired Friday, suggesting that many voters won't make up their mind for several weeks.

Indeed, Romney is trying to reassure concerned conservatives he has a winning strategy that hinges, at least in part, on strong performances at next month's debates. But he will also unveil an aggressive push to expand his support among women and Hispanics, key groups that both sides are courting heavily.

Obama and Romney will be on the campaign trail in the coming week after a largely quiet weekend.

White House officials said there were no plans to pull back on his extensive campaign travel next week, which includes rallies in Ohio on Monday, a fundraiser in New York on Tuesday and a two-city Florida swing on Thursday. The president is also expected to campaign Saturday in Wisconsin, the home state of GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan and one that Romney is working to turn competitive.

A high-ranking national security aide travels with Obama on all of his campaign trips, and officials said he would continue to be briefed on events in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world while on the road.

If the situation escalates, officials said Obama's travel plans could be changed quickly.

Romney, too, is expected to begin receiving intelligence briefings in the coming days and may amend his plans based on world events.

The Republican challenger is scheduled to campaign in Colorado on Sunday before Monday appearances in California and Texas. He'll spend Wednesday and Thursday campaigning in Florida, a stop punctuated by a forum Wednesday hosted by the influential Hispanic television outlet Univision. Obama will appear at the same forum on Thursday.

Romney aides concede they're hoping for a shift away from foreign policy, which is not the longtime businessman's strength. While Romney tried to use the week's events to question Obama's global leadership, he drew criticism from Democrats and some Republicans for his initial response to violence in Libya.

Anti-American protests have spread to around 20 countries. Demonstrators on Friday scaled the walls of embassies in Tunisia and Sudan, while Egyptian police fired tear gas to keep protesters away from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

Obama assumed the role of consoler in chief for families of the four slain Americans on Friday.

"They didn't simply embrace the American ideal. They lived it," Obama said of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans who died when the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was overrun this week. Four flag-draped containers holding the remains rested nearby, attended by Marines as the president vowed, "We will bring to justice those who took them from us."

Romney and running mate Paul Ryan also paid tribute to Stevens and fellow Americans Sean Smith, Glen A. Doherty and Tyrone S. Woods. But their text for the day added disapproval of an American foreign policy that they said lacked resolve.

Ryan offered the sharpest words. "Amid all these threats and dangers, what we do not see is steady, consistent American leadership."

For much of the week, the campaign-long struggle over the economy was shunted to the sidelines but not wholly suspended.

One day after Romney unveiled a television ad accusing Obama of "failing American workers" and ignoring unfair trade practices by China, the president's campaign responded in kind.

"He invested in firms that specialized in relocating jobs to low-wage countries like China," said the announcer in a commercial, referring to Bain Capital, the private equity firm Romney founded.

"Even today, part of Romney's fortune is invested in China," the narrator added. "Romney's never stood up to China. All he's ever done is send them our jobs."

The day's events unfolded a little more than seven weeks before Election Day, and as a spate of national and battleground-state polls pointed to modest gains for the president following the two parties' political conventions. Both campaigns say they expect the race to be decided by eight or nine states.