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Killings at American Consulate in Libya Might Shift Campaigns’ Focus

A man waves his rifle as buildings and cars burn Tuesday inside the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya. AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

After months of a remarkable laser focus on domestic policy and even as the anniversary of 9/11 had a more muted tone than in years past, overnight events overseas have unexpectedly shifted the focus of the presidential contest. It’s not clear how the campaigns will use Tuesday’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, but with less than two months until voters decide which man should be president, every event takes on outsized political importance.

Tuesday’s attack shook Washington, as officials learned that the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, was one of four Americans killed.

As the New York Times put it, “[T]he killing, during an attack by an armed mob angry over a short American-made video mocking Islam’s founding prophet, threatens to upset Washington’s relations with the new Libyan government that took over after the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and sour American public opinion about the prospects of the democratic opening of the Arab Spring.”

Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith was also killed Tuesday. The names of the two other victims had not yet been released as of Wednesday morning, pending notification of their families.

The attack in Libya came after demonstrations Tuesday evening in Cairo, Egypt, where protesters scaled the wall of the U.S. embassy and burned its American flag.

Embassy officials in Cairo put out a statement that condemned “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.” It also condemned an “unjustified breach of our embassy.”

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney went after President Obama in a statement Monday night that his campaign had embargoed until after midnight. But the embargo broke early, adding to charges he was politicizing a sensitive issue on a day when politics was supposed to take a back seat.

“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” Romney said.

Several news outlets reported that Romney may not have been aware of the timing of the embassy’s statement, but Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt retorted, “We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack.”

For his part, President Obama issued a statement in honor of Stevens and the others killed in what he called an “outrageous attack.” The president added:

I have directed my Administration to provide all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya, and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe. While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.

On a personal note, Chris was a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States. Throughout the Libyan revolution, he selflessly served our country and the Libyan people at our mission in Benghazi. As Ambassador in Tripoli, he has supported Libya’s transition to democracy. His legacy will endure wherever human beings reach for liberty and justice. I am profoundly grateful for his service to my Administration, and deeply saddened by this loss.

The brave Americans we lost represent the extraordinary service and sacrifices that our civilians make every day around the globe. As we stand united with their families, let us now redouble our own efforts to carry their work forward.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement is here.

The NewsHour will take a look at the events Wednesday night. Tune in.

11 YEARS LATER

U.S. leaders and mourners paused Tuesday to remember the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. President Obama spoke at the Pentagon, and the governors of New York and New Jersey and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ended a dispute that prevented the opening of the the 9/11 museum at Ground Zero.

Charles Bagli of the New York Times joined Gwen Ifill to describe the situation of the museum, a 100,000-square-foot space beneath the 9/11 memorial that will house remembrances of the victims. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who leads the Port Authority, had been at odds with Bloomberg and the 9/11 foundation that he backs over money and control of the museum. They reached an agreement on the eve the anniversary, after almost a year of stalled construction, and put the museum back on track to open by the end of 2013, which coincides with the end of Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor.

NewsHour online politics production assistant Meena Ganesan strung together a timeline of the political dispute.

Watch the segment here or below:

CAMPAIGN ADS

The campaigns may have taken a pause to honor the anniversary of 9/11, but the American Future Fund did not. The Republican group has a new ad airing in a battleground state that uses pieces of vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. The 60-second spot first aired Monday night in Des Moines, Iowa, according to research by NewsHour partner CMAG.

It takes a questionable line from Ryan’s remarks about a closed auto plant in Janesville, Wis., and suggests President Obama gave “hopeful words” but delivered “disappointing results.”

Watch the ad here or below:

Politico reported the group is putting $150,000 behind the spots, which are also running in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, market.

On Tuesday, news broke that Ryan appears to be hedging his bets by running spots for his House race against Rob Zerban. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Ryan has yet to agree to debate his challenger, but will put up ads starting Wednesday. He’s in a safe district, but Democrats have high hopes for Zerban’s candidacy. Should Ryan win re-election and the vice presidency, a special election would be held to fill his seat.

The Associated Press reported that the ads start the same week the presidential ticket begins running ads there, as Wisconsin is appearing more competitive.

2012 LINE ITEMS

  • Margaret Warner reported Tuesday on tensions between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • Both campaigns are out with new television ads Wednesday. The Obama camp’s, which you can watch here, goes after Romney. The Romney’s camp’s, which you can see here, is in Spanish and focuses on Medicare.
  • The Romney campaign’s plans for the day include a focus on national debt and jobs. At events Wednesday, the candidates will note a new poverty report and the president’s comments that debt is “unpatriotic.”
  • The New York Times reports on the candidates’ needs to balance campaigning with fundraising.
  • Chris Ruddy of Newsmax, a conservative site, condemns the way Romney’s team has handled his campaign and convention.
  • Paul Solman’s Making Sense segment from Tuesday night explores each campaign’s health care claims.
  • The president-hugging pizzeria man from Florida has political fans and haters on Yelp.
  • Ruth Marcus proposes a set of presidential debate questions.
  • We stumbled upon the Nerds for Obama Tumblr. Let the Dumbledore for President jokes commence.

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

  • After winning their primaries Tuesday, former legislative leader Maggie Hassan will face Tea Party favorite Ovide Lamontagne in the closely watched open gubernatorial race in New Hampshire. Should Hassan win, she would be the only female Democratic governor in the country in 2013. New Hampshire voters also locked in their choices for the two congressional seats, and the races will be rematches from 2010.
  • Nathan Gonzales writes for the Rothenberg Political report that with nearly all of the nation’s primaries in the rearview mirror, 98.6 percent of incumbents were selected to move on to November. “Despite all the stories about a purported anti-incumbent wave in which voters would throw out sitting members of all shape, size and party, the phenomenon simply hasn’t manifested itself, at least not through the primaries,” he writes.
  • Coordinating producer Linda J. Scott reports from Capitol Hill that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, talked about sequestration battles at a press conference Tuesday. “I still look at my failure to come to an agreement with the president as the biggest disappointment of my speakership,” Boehner said. “[L]et me make it perfectly clear whose idea … where this sequester came from. … [T]he president didn’t want his reelection inconvenienced by another fight over a $1.2 trillion increase in the debt ceiling and that’s why we have it.”
  • Could there be another presidential debate — on science? The candidates have been invited, expenses have been covered and the University of Minnesota has agreed to host. The NewsHour’s Jenny Marder looks at a group that’s been trying for the past five years to thrust science into the spotlight of the presidential campaign.
  • A monetary minstrel named Merle Hazard sings “Fiscal Cliff” for Paul Solman.
  • Solman also assesses the unemployment numbers on his own jobless scale.
  • Former President Bill Clinton spoke with reporters at the Biltmore about his golf game and Mormonism after a day rallying voters.
  • Hari Sreenivasan talks to journalist Sasha Issenberg about his new book on the data collections that drive modern political campaigns. It’s called “The Victory Lab.”
  • The Boston Globe finds that Elizabeth Warren is looking at softening her image.
  • How each party interprets economic news is more divided than ever, says a Pew Research Center poll, and the numbers show another kind of post-convention bounce.
  • Virginia Senate candidate Tim Kaine sparred Tuesday with Crossroads GPS over a $1 million ad campaign they launched against him on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
  • BuzzFeed looks at ads that exploit 9/11.

Cassie M. Chew contributed to this report.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • President Obama makes a statement in the Rose Garden at 10:35 a.m. and speaks at a campaign event in Las Vegas at 8:25 p.m.
  • Mitt Romney has an event in Jacksonville, Fla., at 9:35 a.m.
  • Vice President Biden attends a campaign event at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, at 12:30 p.m. He hosts a private reception with Jewish community leaders at the Naval Observatory at 7 p.m.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz, @indiefilmfan, @tiffanymullon, @dePeystah, @meenaganesan and @abbruns.

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