LEESBURG, Va. — In the post-debate spin room Tuesday night, Romney campaign aides and surrogates tried to make up for a botched exchange on the Libya attacks by promising to aggressively prosecute President Obama's handling of the situation — but 36 hours later, no such prosecution has materialized.
Instead, Mitt Romney spent the next day on the stump criticizing the president for his lack of a second-term agenda, and conspicuously avoiding the Libya issue.
Asked why the issue was absent from Romney's public remarks, senior adviser Kevin Madden told BuzzFeed the campaign decided to focus their post-debate Virginia swing on exposing Obama's lack of specific proposals, and challenge him on gas prices and the economy.
"We used [Wednesday] to remind voters that if President Obama had a record to run on he would do so, but he doesn't so he can't," said Madden, adding, "Voters have a choice between Governor Romney, who has a plan to fix the economy and address concerns like gas prices, and President Obama, who hasn't even presented voters a second term agenda. We want to continue to drive that fact with swing voters."
But another campaign official, granted anonymity to discuss strategy, said their plan to re-litigate the Libya issue was postponed when instant polls and focus groups immediately after the debate showed Romney winning exchanges about the economy, deficit, and gas prices. In the time between the Tuesday night spin room, and the candidate's Wednesday morning rally, Romney's team decided they would build on their momentum in those areas, rather than play defense on foreign policy, the official said.
Madden said Libya will "remain an issue because of the unanswered questions about the attacks on our consulate are there."
And, indeed, the first signs of pushback appeared Wednesday night, when the Romney campaign released a web video arguing that it took Obama two weeks to fully embrace the notion that the Libya attacks were an act of terror.
And a campaign official also said Romney would come to next Monday's foreign policy debate prepared to question Obama on his version of events, and challenge the administration's reaction in the aftermath.
But one Obama campaign aide dismissed the fledgling efforts as "weak," and called Romney's avoidance of the issue on the stump a clear concession that it's a losing argument for him.
“It was foolish, and a sign of panic when the Romney campaign said that they’d go on the offensive on Libya — all it would do is highlight the weakest moment of the debate for Romney," the aide said, adding, "You'd think an 'offensive' would include more than a web video."
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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