(News Analysis): Libya controversy unlikely to impact U.S. presidential race

October 31, 2012 10:17 am 

By Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 — The ongoing controversy over the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate Sept. 11 in Libya is unlikely to shake up next week's U.S. presidential election, experts said.

The White House initially billed the attack as erupting out of a spontaneous protest against an anti-Islamic movie made in the U. S., before it came out that the incident was a planned terrorist assault and that the film was unrelated.

Since then, information has been leaking out bit by bit, including reports that requests for military backup during the attack were denied and that Central Intelligence Agency operators were ordered to stand down.

Those reports raised tough questions for the administration of President Barack Obama, including who approved the ambassador's security at the Benghazi consulate; who made what calls about military enforcements once the compound was under siege; and what the administration knew before publicly laying the blame on the anti-Islamic film.

The administration has urged patience until an official investigation is completed, amid accusations of stonewalling.

Despite the controversy, foreign policy is an afterthought amid an election in which the overarching theme is the economy. With millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans and no clear end in sight, the Libya incident is far from most Americans' concerns.

Moreover, the war-weary public is increasingly isolationist in the wake of the unpopular U.S. conflict in Iraq and the ongoing war in Afghanistan, experts noted.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney showed little interest in tackling the subject in the third and final televised debate against Obama earlier this month. After dropping the ball when he tried to bring up Benghazi in the second debate, the challenger avoided the topic in the final debate, as one of his objectives was not to seem too combative in a bid to woo women voters.

Staying true to his campaign strategy, Romney several times diverted the discussion to the U.S. economy in a debate that was supposed to be about foreign policy.

"Romney has seen that there is very little movement in the polls from (the Libya) issue," said Dan Mahaffee, an analyst with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.

With that lack of political impact, an ongoing investigation, and pushback from the families of those killed in Benghazi, Romney likely heeded advice to stay away from the Libya issue, Mahaffee added.

Some critics charge U.S. mainstream media with not taking the White House to task amid an election in which many reporters want the president to win a second term, although Fox News has reported on the story daily.

Republicans continue to press the administration on Libya. Appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation," Sen. John McCain called the president's handling of the siege a "debacle," billing the imbroglio the "worst cover-up or incompetence I have ever observed in my life."

Meanwhile, the campaign has entered the final stretch, with the candidates running neck-in-neck nationwide and Romney ahead by a razor-thin 0.9 points Tuesday, according to Real Clear Politics' poll average.

The fight for key battleground states is tightening, with Romney moving ahead in Ohio by a knife's edge, gaining 2 points after being tied last week, found a Rasmussen poll released Monday.

Based on current projections, Romney would have to win Wisconsin if he loses Ohio in order to move into the White House, the poll shows, according to Rasmussen. (PNA/Xinhua)



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