WASHINGTON – Republican challenger Mitt Romney will deliver a speech Monday he hopes will undo a string of foreign policy stumbles, taking aim at an issue where polls show President Barack Obama holds a clear lead. The incumbent concludes a last swing through solidly Democratic California, scooping up more campaign cash from the rich and famous.
With the race growing tighter after Obama's poor performance in last week's presidential debate -the first of three- Democrats and Republicans now are looking to Thursday's debate confrontation between Vice President Joe Biden and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.
And all in all both tickets are bearing down on their attempts to draw in the small percentage of voters who remain undecided in fewer than 10 states, with Iowa, Ohio, Virginia and Florida all set for candidate visits this week.
The U.S. president is not elected by the nationwide popular vote, but in a series of state-by-state contests.
In an election-year display of incumbent's power, Obama on Monday was declaring a national monument at the home of Latino labor leader Cesar Chavez, the United Farmworkers Union founder who died in 1993. That is designed as an open appeal to Hispanic voters in swing states, before the president moves from Los Angeles to San Francisco for more fundraising.
Romney intends his foreign policy speech as a vehicle to send tough signals on Iran and Syria and portray Obama as weak for his administration's changing explanation for the deadly attacks on the U.S. consulate in Libya.
The Obama campaign was hitting back in advance.
"We're not going to be lectured by someone who has been an unmitigated disaster on foreign policy," Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Voters give Obama higher marks than Romney on questions of national security and crisis response, but world affairs in general are a distant priority compared with the struggling U.S. economy, polling shows. Nevertheless, Romney will speak at Virginia Military Institute to broaden his explanation of how he would serve as commander in chief.
After the speech, Romney has a rally slated in Virginia, then events in Iowa and Ohio later in the week.
After polls recently suggested Obama had narrow leads in several swing states, the Romney campaign says the race is tightening following his strong performance in last week's debate. To help maintain his momentum, Romney has tweaked his message over the last week, highlighting his compassionate side and centrist political positions.
Obama engaged in a bit of self-deprecation in his Los Angeles fundraising appearance Monday, taking a good-natured shot at his own underwhelming debate performance last week, marveling at how his friends in the entertainment business could turn in flawless showings every time.
"I can't always say the same," Obama said of his debate performance, compared to those of his entertainment business friends. He spoke to thousands of supporters who got the joke. It was Obama's most direct acknowledgment that Romney won their debate as the campaign entered its final month.
Obama appeared on stage after comments by actor George Clooney and performances by Katy Perry, Stevie Wonder, Jon Bon Jovi -and before a night-capping dinner for 150 guests at Wolfgang Puck's restaurant at $25,000 per person.
Romney campaigned in equally important Florida on Monday, telling a crowd of about 12,000 in Port St. Lucie that he had enjoyed himself in the debate, ticking off a list of Obama shortcomings he said he had exposed during the first debate.
"Now of course, days later, we're hearing his excuses," Romney said. "And next January we'll be watching him leave the White House for the last time."
Even as Romney sought to reap further rewards from his debate performance, a string of good news for the president threatened to steal the former Massachusetts governor's spotlight.
A jobs report Friday showing unemployment at the lowest levels of Obama's presidency, down to 7.8 percent, was quickly followed Saturday by a fundraising report showing Obama and Democrats had raised $181 million in September. It was their best fundraising month of the campaign, but fell short of their record $190 million raised in September 2008 as the president campaigned for his first term.
Romney's campaign has not released its report for the month, and Republicans sought to downplay Obama's financial advantage. The party's national chairman, Reince Priebus, said he had been counting all along on being outraised by Obama and Democrats.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.