JOE HANEL/Durango Herald
GOLDEN – Two days after the killing of the American ambassador to Libya, the presidential campaigns returned Thursday to the economic messages they have been stressing all year.
At a rally in Golden, President Barack Obama vowed to bring to justice the people who killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others during an assault on a U.S. consulate in Libya.
“Obviously, our hearts are heavy this week,” Obama said at the start of his speech.
He then pivoted to an economic message, arguing that the country is better off than it was before he became president.
“We’ve made progress. We were losing 800,000 jobs a month. We’ve created jobs for the last 30 months,” Obama said.
When he did return to foreign policy, it was to pledge to keep the country’s military the strongest on Earth while winding down wars in Asia.
“After a decade of war, it’s time to do some nation-building right here, right here in Colorado,” he said.
An estimated 8,400 people attended the speech in a park below Golden’s mountain backdrop, the town’s fire marshal said.
A few hours later, Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s son, Josh, held a rally off Golden’s main street and stuck to a purely economic message.
About 22 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed, Josh Romney said, and his father is the right person to lead a turnaround.
“He’s had that experience. He is not getting on-the-job training,” he said.
Romney’s campaign criticized Obama for apologizing for America as demonstrations were building outside embassies in the Arab world after clips from a movie that mocked the prophet Mohammed were broadcast. Romney took issue with a statement from the U.S. embassy in Egypt that decried the insult to Islam. The White House says it did not approve the message, which was issued before rioting began.
Obama did not mention the controversy Thursday in Golden, and Josh Romney and other Republicans also steered clear of it.
But in an interview, Josh Romney said his father said what he felt about the Libyan crisis.
“He stands by it and recognizes that Obama does not have a clear message in terms of foreign policy,” he said.
It was Obama’s ninth trip to Colorado in 2012.
Attorney General John Suthers, a Republican who spoke at the Josh Romney rally, said he thinks Obama is having a hard time here.
“Why does he keep coming to Colorado? Because folks, he’s got a tough sell,” Suthers said.
Obama’s previous campaign stops focused on rebuilding his successful 2008 coalition, with several events geared toward college students, women and Latinos. This one focused on suburban voters in Jefferson County west of Denver. Along with Arapahoe, it is the largest and most important swing county in the state.
The word “Durango” slipped off the president’s lips when he was thanking supporters for his 2008 election and the changes it brought, like his health-care law.
“You’re the ones who made it happen,” Obama said. “You’re the reason that a woman outside Durango can get the treatment she needs for her breast cancer.”