ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney assailed President Barack Obama and his reelection campaign Thursday for failing to recognize last month's attacks on the U.S. consulate in Libya as a "serious issue."
Speaking before a crowd of 8,000 at a rally in Asheville, N.C., Romney hit back at the Obama campaign for stating earlier in the day that Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan had turned the tragedy into a "political circus."
“His campaign said this today about the Benghazi terrorist attack,” Romney said. “They said -- and I quote -- the entire reason this has become the political topic it is, is because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.”
“No, President Obama, it’s an issue because this is the first time in 33 years that a United States ambassador has been assassinated,” Romney shot back. “Mr. President, this is an issue because we were attacked successfully by terrorists on the anniversary of 9/11."
“President Obama, this is an issue because Americans wonder why it was it took so long for you to admit that this was a terrorist attack," he added.
During an appearance on CNN Thursday afternoon, Obama's deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter defended the administration's response to the crisis in Benghazi and stated that Romney and Ryan were the "entire reason" the situation had developed into a political issue.
"We would have told the American people what we knew and, you know, in terms of the politicization of this -- we're here at a debate, and I hope we get to talk about the debate," Cutter said. "But the entire reason that this has become the, you know, political topic it is, is because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. It's a big part of their stump speech and it's reckless and irresponsible."
Romney insisted in his speech that "serious questions" remain over what the White House has officially dubbed a terrorist attack -- although the president has refrained from publicly using the word "terrorism" when describing the incident.
“This is very -– this is a very serious issue,” Romney said in Asheville. “These are very serious questions, and the American people deserve serious answers and I hope they come soon.”
Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign, issued the following statement in response to Romney's remarks:
Mitt Romney will stoop to any level to score cheap political points. From the time of the attack in Libya, Mitt Romney has stopped at nothing to politicize these events – and he wasted no time in proving that point in North Carolina today. While President Obama has been focused on getting the facts, finding the terrorists responsible, and bringing them to justice, Mitt Romney has attempted to use the tragedy to his political advantage. Every time Mitt Romney has tried to prove he’s ready to be commander-in-chief, he has failed miserably – embarrassing himself and alienating our closest ally during his foreign trip, calling Russia our top foe without presenting any plan to deal with al-Qaeda, and rushing to launch a political attack against the President on the Libya tragedy before he knew all the facts. The American people deserve better from someone auditioning to be Commander-in-Chief.