Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is moving away from his preferred issue — the economy — and into military and foreign policy, a realm usually viewed as the home turf of the incumbent.
Romney's address Tuesday to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars also comes on the eve of an overseas visit to key allies. Aides say the former Massachusetts governor will outline to veterans his view that President Barack Obama has relinquished U.S. leadership around the world.
Obama sought to raise the stakes for Romney's speech with remarks Monday at the VFW convention, casting himself as a steady commander in chief tested by two wars and the successful raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. The president was continuing a Western campaign swing with appearances Tuesday in Oregon and Washington state.
Obama and Romney are both trying to gain the military vote in a race that remains tight. In the 2008 election, 54 percent of those who said they had served in the military voted for Sen. John McCain, himself a veteran, to 44 percent for Obama, who never served in the military, according to exit polls.
While raising money in California on Monday, Romney offered a preview of his latest critique of Obama, telling about 400 supporters at a hotel in Irvine that "the consequence of American weakness is seen around us in the world."
However, Obama touted his record as one of promises kept: End the war in Iraq, wind down the conflict in Afghanistan and go after the al-Qaida leader behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Without naming Romney, Obama indirectly suggested his opponent would have kept troops in Iraq indefinitely and criticized him for opposing the president's 2014 timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan.
"That's not a plan for America's security," Obama told the veterans group.
Although Obama suggested that Romney was an inexperienced critic working to polish his own credentials, Romney appeared ready to turn from his chief argument that Obama is a failed steward of the economy and criticize the president on foreign and national security policy.
Romney noted Sunday that key ally Australia's foreign minister, Bob Carr, had told him during a private meeting that the United States was "in decline." However, Carr on Monday clarified his remarks, saying he wasn't criticizing the U.S. when he spoke of a nation "in decline." Kim Beazley, Australia's ambassador to the United States, said Carr's remarks "represent a considered assessment of the U.S. economy and an antidote to talk of U.S. declinism."
Romney also suggested Monday that the Obama administration had not been aggressive enough in deterring Iran's nuclear ambitions or in trying to quell the violence in Syria.
Romney said he agreed with Obama's call for Syrian President Bashar Assad's departure but said Obama had not shown proper leadership to force it.
"I think from the very beginning we misread the setting in Syria," Romney told CNBC. "America should've come out very aggressively from the very beginning and said Assad must go. ... The world looks for American leadership and American strength."
The shift toward world affairs precedes Romney's trip, beginning Tuesday, to Britain, Israel and Poland. It also comes as the Obama and Romney campaigns' aggressive tone resumed after a three-day hiatus in light of the deadly shooting at a Colorado movie theater Friday.
Trying to set the expectations for the opponent, Obama campaign officials challenged Romney to offer clear policy ideas during his three-country trip. Romney's travels will be viewed as a measure of how well he can stand up on the world stage. Obama took an even broader such trip as a candidate in 2008.
During a speech Monday night to about 1,000 people at a raucous fundraiser in Oakland, California, Obama said the presumptive Republican nominee was "knowingly twisting my words around to suggest I don't value small business."
Romney had revived his attacks Monday on Obama's comment this month that government is due a share of the credit for business success. The president said Romney was distorting his words and going "a little over the edge" in his political attacks.
While the weekend truce was fleeting, the Colorado tragedy did not keep either candidate from chasing campaign contributions.
Romney headlined fundraisers over two days in California, netting $10 million before leaving the country.
Obama was expected to raise more than $6 million during two days of West Coast fundraising. He headlined three events in the San Francisco Bay area Monday and was to attend four more Tuesday in Seattle and in Portland, Oregon.
Both campaigns were keeping their largely negative television advertisements off the air in Colorado, a key battleground state in the November election.