By Ginger Gibson
FAIRFAX, Va. — Mitt Romney didn't repeat his strong criticism of President Barack Obama over the response to protests at the U.S. embassies in Egypt and Libya at a campaign rally here Thursday.
He did note the death of four Americans, calling it "a tragedy to lose such a wonderful, wonderful ah, wonderful people," as he was interrupted by protesters on site in this all-important swing state.
One protester, caught on camera by networks covering the event, shouted "Why are you politicizing Libya?" before being shouted down by the crowd, which began chanting "USA." The protester was escorted out of the event.
"I would offer a moment of silence, but one gentleman doesn't want to be silent — so we're going to keep on going," Romney said.
Aside from the brief remarks noting the deaths of the Americans — including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, Romney made no other mention of the growing controversy.
It was a stark shift from yesterday for the GOP presidential nominee, who slammed the Obama administration for wanting to "apologize" for the American values that led to the attacks on the North African embassies.
At a press conference on Wednesday in Jacksonville, Fla., Romney continued to sharply criticize the Obama administration "sympathiz[ing] with those who waged the attacks."
Romney said that during a campaign it's appropriate to highlight differences between himself and the president, including on foreign policy.
Romney came under fire from both sides of the political spectrum for his remarks, which critics said were out of line because he was politicizing the issue while the nation is still dealing with an international crisis. But some Republicans — including Romney adviser and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, National Review Editor Rich Lowry and Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol — argued that Romney should tackle the president on his Middle Eastern policy.
Romney's stump speech at a park in Northern Virginia on Thursday did include a heavier-than-usual dose of foreign policy.
Romney criticized Obama for reductions in defense spending and the potential deep cuts if the White House and Congress can't agree to a budget deal by the end of this year and sequestration ensues.
"Ever since FDR, we've had the capacity to be engaged in two conflicts at once," Romney said. "And he's saying, ‘No, we're going to cut that back to only one conflict.'"
Romney vowed to prevent reductions in military spending and not allow the trillion dollars in sequestration cuts.
"The world needs American leadership," Romney said. "The Middle East needs American leadership. And I intend to be a president that provides the leadership that America respects and will keep us admired throughout the world."
The event appeared to be staged to appeal to women — with whom Romney lags by double-digit margins, according to some polls — although Romney made no direct appeal to women voters as he has done before on the stump.
The risers behind him were filled with only female supporters. And the introductions by small-business owners to warm up the crowd were also all by women.
Women have been a prime target of both campaigns in Northern Virginia. Obama's campaign began running television ads during the summer that attacked Romney for wanting to overturn Roe v. Wade. And Planned Parenthood recently made a $1.4 million ad purchase in the same area.
Mostly, Romney stuck to the economic message that is the central theme of his campaign.
But he still made an effort to tie his economic message to his foreign policy positions.
In explaining to the crowd that he has a five-point plan to improve the economy, Romney added that it was necessary to make the military stronger.
He also spoke at more length about his views on China.
Romney has said frequently that he views China as a currency manipulator and that if elected he would fight the country's attempts to drive down the price of its goods.
However, the GOP nominee rarely speaks at great length about what he sees as the negative effects in the U.S. from currency manipulation.
"You might wonder what in the world has that got to do with jobs here," Romney said. "Let me tell you, when China manipulates their currency by holding down the value of their currency compared to ours, what it does is makes their products in this country artificially cheap. And that then drives American manufactures and American producers out of business and kills jobs."
He also assailed China for intellectual property theft.
"Did you know they even have an Apple store?" Romney said. "It's a fake Apple store; they sell counterfeit Apple products. This is wrong. We're going to crack down on China when they manipulate their currency, when they steal our goods, when they don't protect our intellectual property. We're going to make sure China understands we mean business."
Ginger Gibson is a reporter for POLITICO.com. POLITICO and ABC News 4 have partnered for the 2012 presidential campaign cycle.