JUDY WOODRUFF: The presidential campaign's focus turned to foreign policy, at least for a day, as Mitt Romney tried to capitalize on new momentum.
In a major speech, he challenged President Obama's handling of an array of trouble spots.
MITT ROMNEY (R): I know the president hopes for a safer, freer and more prosperous Middle East allied with us. I share this hope. But hope is not a strategy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: With, that Mitt Romney took aim at foreign policy today in a speech at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va.
MITT ROMNEY: When we look at the Middle East today, with Iran closer than ever to nuclear weapons capability, with the conflict in Syria threatening to destabilize the region, and with violent extremists on the march, and with an American ambassador and three others dead likely at the hands of al-Qaida affiliates, it is clear that the risk of conflict in the region is higher now than when the president took office.
JUDY WOODRUFF: That last point involved the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya and the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens on the night of September 11. The administration initially blamed an anti-Muslim film for inciting the trouble.
More recently, officials have said new information indicates it was a terrorist attack. Today, Romney again criticized the president's response in Libya.
MITT ROMNEY: I want to be very clear. The blame for the murder of our people in Libya, and the attacks on our embassies in so many other countries, lies solely with those who carried them out -- no one else.
But it is our responsibility and the responsibility of the president to use America's great power to shape history, not to lead from behind, leaving our destiny at the mercy of events.
JUDY WOODRUFF: For its part, the Obama campaign aired a new ad that accused Romney of injecting politics into a national tragedy with his initial response to the consulate attack.
NARRATOR: When our U.S. diplomats were attacked in Libya, "The New York Times" said Romney's knee-jerk response showed an extraordinary lack of presidential character.
And even Republican experts said Romney's remarks were the worst possible reaction to what happened.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Romney also criticized the president today on Iraq, arguing that U.S. influence there has been hurt by what he called the abrupt withdrawal of American forces.
And he insisted he could do better at brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
MITT ROMNEY: I will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel. On this vital issue, the president has failed.
JUDY WOODRUFF: That statement stood in contrast to last May, when Romney told donors that a two-state solution was almost unthinkable to accomplish.
Democrats like Sen. John Kerry at last month's convention have seized on shifts like that one to argue Romney is not ready to guide foreign policy.
SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-Mass.: Mr. Romney, here's a little advice. Before you debate Barack Obama on foreign policy, you better finish the debate with yourself.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, today, the new Obama ad pointed to Romney's much criticized overseas trip during the summer to argue he lacks experience and clarity on foreign affairs.
NARRATOR: Reckless. Amateurish. That is what news media and fellow Republicans called Mitt Romney's gaffe-filled July tour of England, Israel, and Poland.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All of this played out as the president himself was in Southern California. He declared the home of the late farm workers union leader Cesar Chavez a national landmark.
He also held fund-raisers in Los Angeles and San Francisco. His campaign and the Democratic National Committee raised $181 million in September, the most for any month this year.
But money aside, it appears Romney's performance in last week's highly watched debate has improved his standing in the race.
A new Gallup tracking poll found the candidates in a dead heat, each receiving 47 percent among registered voters. The president had held a five-point advantage before the debate.
And the PewResearchCenter showed Romney coming from eight points down to four points ahead among likely voters.
There were also signs that he's regained ground in several battleground states, all of which raises the stakes for this Thursday's encounter between Vice President Joe Biden and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, a debate that will cover both domestic and foreign policy.