TODAY   |  September 14, 2012

Candidates trade barbs over foreign policy

As chaos in the Middle East continues, President Obama and GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney are each trying to project strength on national security. NBCs Peter Alexander reports.

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>> this led to fresh jabs on the presidential campaign trail. nbc's peter alexander is here with that part of the story. this is for the first time becoming a major flashpoint between the president and governor romney .

>> a largely dormant campaign issue. with the ongoing turmoil in the middle east and the political fallout at home, poet president barack obama and mitt romney are trying to project strength on national security , but less than eight weeks till election day romney , who by the way authored a book titled "no apologies" is making no apologies for his sharp cricism of the president's foreign policy . while in virginia mitt romney toned down his attacks on president obama seeking to project strength in more subtle terms, arguing the president is a weak leader.

>> sometimes it seems that we're at the mercy of events instead of shaping events. the world needs american leadership. the middle east needs american leadership.

>> reporter: demonstrating the bitterness on both sides, romney was briefly interrupted by a heckler.

>> why are you politicizing libya?

>> reporter: campaigning in colorado president obama took a firm stance reminding voters of his power as commander in chief.

>> reporter: i want people around me to hear me, to all those who would do us harm. no act of terror will go unpunished. it will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world .

>> on tuesday romney blasted the administration for a statement from the u.s. embassy in cairo that romney said was akin to an apology showing sympathy for the attackers prompting this from the president in a telemundo interview about his opponent.

>> reporter: i have observed that there's a tendency to shoot before you aim, as i've pointed out.

>> on thursday romney responded on abc news.

>> reporter: what i said was exactly the same conclusion the white house reached which was that the statement was inappropriate. that's why they backed away from it.

>> romney , who has been trailing in the polls among women, made them a major focus on thursday surrounded by women on stage. he hammered away at what he calls the president's economic failures.

>> reporter: we talked about where he wants to get but not how to get there. we've watched him for the last four years, and what he has done has not helped.

>> meanwhile, the president tried to gently contrast his background from his opponent.

>> reporter: let's face it. you know, a mixed kid from hawaii born to a single mom is not likely to become president of the united states , but in america it can happen.

>> it's not hard to figure out which states these campaigns think will decide the election. romney in florida wednesday, virginia thursday and today he heads back to the battleground of ohio. it's familiar territory for both romney and the president. david, they have been there a combined 14 times since june, seven for romney , seven for the president.

>> this is all important ohio. peter alexander , thanks very much.