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Obama's hug, Romney's "whiff"

President Obama got a hug and a lift. Mitt Romney had a swing and a miss.

The performance of the Democratic and Republican candidates in Florida last week told the tale of two campaigns. One feels a surge. The other looks troubled.

That’s not just a matter of appearance. Polls show Obama clinging to an inside-the-error-margin lead in Florida. The polls really start to matter now as undecided voters focus on the race and upcoming debates.

Public opinion will certainly change in these final two months. But the performances of the two campaigns last week in Florida give an indication of what could be in store.

Obama’s Florida highlight: A Republican pizza shop owner who hugged the president and lifted him off his feet in Fort Pierce last Sunday.

Romney’s Florida highlight: An uncomfortable Wednesday press conference in Jacksonville where he faced questions about “politicizing” the violent deadly protests on an embassy and consulate in Cairo and Benghazi, Libya.

“He looked defensive,” said one Florida Republican campaign veteran, echoing others who didn’t want to speak on the record for fear of publicly breaking party codes of silence so close to an election. “It just didn’t look good.”

Romney didn’t sound quite right, either.

Romney claimed that Obama’s administration “sympathized” with the attackers when the Cairo embassy issued statements that “apologize for American values.”

Romney’s use of the word “sympathized” is strained. But there’s no persuasive evidence of any “apology” in the statements issued by scared staffers facing an angry mob in a foreign land. An embassy staffer, amid the protests, denied this very claim on Twitter: “We did not apologize to anyone because we did nothing” wrong.

Dictionary accuracy aside, Romney’s comments hit the right notes with conservatives who blasted the press for focusing on their candidate’s misstatements.

But few could offer cogent defenses of what Romney said. They don’t want to talk much about Romney. Republicans want the election focused on Obama, a referendum on the president.

Democrats want what they call a “choice” election, a selection between Obama and Romney (and perhaps Libertarian Gary Johnson).

The Republican candidate helped the Democrats along by making misleading and inflammatory statements that drew attention to Romney.

“It was a missed opportunity. Mitt had it teed up, and he whiffed it,” another Florida Republican said. “I still think Romney wins Florida because the president has performed so horribly in this economy and a lot of seniors don’t want him and this is a foreign-policy failure. But this didn’t help.”

In wanting to make the president look like an appeaser, Romney decide to forgo the conservative narrative that Obama under-delivered on his 2009 speech in Britain where the president boasted of the “restoration of America’s standing in the world.”

What warnings did the U.S. have about the attack in Benghazi? Why was an ambassador — the first killed since 1979 — not more heavily protected in dangerous Libya? Why did Obama wait so long to comment on what happened? Was enough done to prepare for attacks on Sept. 11?

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