Obama and Romney Offer a Possible Preview of Their First Debate
Mitt Romney criticized President Obama in remarks broadcast on Sunday for refusing to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, during this week’s United Nations General Assembly meeting, saying it sends a message that the administration is distancing itself from an important Middle East ally.
“I think the exact opposite approach is what’s necessary,” Mr. Romney said on “60 Minutes.”
Mr. Obama, speaking in a separate interview on the same program on CBS, said he spoke frequently with Mr. Netanyahu and described Israel as “one of our closest allies in the region.”
He also challenged Mr. Romney, who has accused Mr. Obama of not standing up forcefully enough to Syria and Iran, to be more specific about his foreign policy plans. “So if Governor Romney is suggesting that we should start another war,” Mr. Obama said, “he should say so.”
The two presidential contenders carried out a shadow debate that offered a likely preview of the tone and substance of the first of their three face-to-face debates, which will be held in Denver on October 3.
Mr. Romney tried to undo some of the damage from his remarks to a group of wealthy donors that were recorded in May and released last week, in which he said that 47 percent of the American people paid no income taxes, were dependent on government and would never vote for him. Republican critics have called for a campaign shake-up in the wake of the furor over the remarks and other issues.
Mr. Romney said that he was essentially tied with Mr. Obama and that the campaign did not need a turnaround.
“That’s not the campaign,” he said of the contentious remarks. “That was me, right?”
He added: “I’ve got a very effective campaign. It’s doing a very good job. But not everything I say is elegant.”
Mr. Romney said he would consider means-testing for Social Security benefits for future retirees, and he put some distance between his plans for reshaping Medicaire as a voluntary voucher program and the proposal by his running mate,Representative Paul D. Ryan, to reduce payments to the health care program by some $700 billion.
“Yeah, he was going to use that money to reduce the budget deficit,” Mr. Romney said of Mr. Ryan. “I’m putting it back into Medicare, and I’m the guy running for president, not him.”
Mr. Obama took a fairly combative tone in his interview, defending the administration’s actions on financial bailouts, health care legislation and efforts to help homeowners and job seekers.
He said he regretted that he had failed in a central promise of his 2008 campaign — to change the tone of Washington.
“I’m the first one to confess the spirit that I brought to Washington that I wanted to see instituted, where we weren’t constantly in a political slugfest but were focused more on problem solving, that, you know, I haven’t fully accomplished that,” Mr. Obama said. “Haven’t even come close in some cases.”
Both men said their workdays ended around 10 p.m., though they described their late-night routines somewhat differently. Mr. Obama said that after his wife and daughters went to sleep, he would spend several hours reading and writing. Sometimes, he said, he would repair to the Truman Balcony and gaze out over the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial.
“And so,” the president said, “those are moments of reflection that, you know, help gird you for the next challenge and the next day.”
Mr. Romney said he would end the day with a conversation with his wife, Ann, and then read and plan the next day.
After that, he said, “I pray. Prayer is a time to connect with the divine, but also time, I’m sure, to concentrate one’s thoughts, to meditate and to imagine what might be.”
“What do you ask for?” the CBS correspondent Scott Pelley inquired.
“That’s between me and God,” Mr. Romney replied with a laugh. “But mostly wisdom and understanding. I seek to understand things I don’t understand.”
Mr. Romney said on a plane to Colorado on Sunday night that the debates would offer him the chance to correct “inaccurate” portrayals in Obama campaign ads of his positions on the auto bailout, taxes and abortion.