Both presidential candidates will mark the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks Tuesday during a campaign shaped by President Obama’s aggressive electioneering on the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Obama will observe a moment of silence at the White House and attend a ceremony at the Pentagon memorial, while GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney will speak at the National Guard Association convention.
In Congress, House and Senate leaders are coming together on the steps of the Capitol for a remembrance ceremony.
Obama and Democrats believe the bin Laden killing has given their party and candidate an historically rare advantage on national security. They seized on the issue at their political convention, where Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said Republicans should ask bin Laden if he was better off now than four years ago.
The question for the Obama and Romney campaigns is how much of a difference the bin Laden mission — and national security in general — will make in an election both sides expect to turn on the economy.
Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said that it is natural for the Obama campaign to try to get as much credit for the killing of bin Laden as the 9/11 anniversary approached.
“However, come Election Day, this is going to be based on a referendum on Obama’s stewardship of the economy and whether or not people feel they’re better off,” he said.
Democrats hope the campaign’s bin Laden rhetoric will strengthen Obama’s lead on national security and dull Romney’s edge with veterans in military-heavy swing states such as Virginia and North Carolina. Gallup polling in May gave Romney a 24-point lead with veterans over Obama, 58 percent to 34 percent.
Heather Hurlburt, executive director of the liberal-leaning National Security Network, said the bin Laden raid could help Obama if it makes voters think he is a stronger leader.
“Very few people go into the booth on Election Day thinking I am a national security voter, but national security and the associated questions about leadership are one of the things that underpins how people see presidential candidates,” she said.
An Obama campaign official said the death of bin Laden was highlighted because it was a major decision in his presidency.
“A key goal of our convention was to talk about the president’s record over the last four years and to outline his vision for the future,” the official said. “Being a responsible commander-in-chief is an important part of that record.”
Romney’s campaign has sought to blunt Obama’s advantage by criticizing his handling of Iran’s nuclear weapon program and the potential defense cuts through sequestration. Romney has also accused the president of not providing enough support for Israel.
Polls suggest Obama has a definitive edge over Romney on foreign policy and national security issues.
Some 54 percent of registered voters said they approved of his handling of foreign policy in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll last month, and they preferred him over Romney as commander-in-chief by 45 percent to 38 percent.
Romney’s campaign has shifted in its response to the bin Laden issue.
When the Obama campaign touted the killing of bin Laden as the first anniversary approached in May, Republicans vocally accused Obama of “spiking the football” and Romney said he would have ordered the raid as well.
More recently, Romney conceded the bin Laden point to Obama, but suggested it would not turn the election’s outcome.
“I don’t know that that’s going to give him the support that he wants,” Romney told CBS’s “Meet the Press” Sunday when asked about the bin Laden raid. “But of course he deserves credit for giving the order for Seal Team 6 to go after bin Laden and take him out.”
While Tuesday’s commemorations primarily serve as a reminder of the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, they will also remind people of the fact that bin Laden is no longer walking the earth to make the anniversary himself.
And voters won’t need to watch campaign ads to get other high-profile reminders this fall of Obama’s decision to order the raid into Pakistan.
A newly released book written by a Navy SEAL who took part in the raid shot to No. 1 on best-seller lists. The book’s author insists his work shouldn’t be used as a political talking point by either side.
“This book is not political whatsoever,” said Matt Bissonnette, who wrote “No Easy Day” under the pseudonym Mark Owen. “It doesn’t bad mouth either party, and we specifically chose September 11th [as the initial release date] to keep it out of the politics. You know, if these crazies on either side of the aisle want to make it political, shame on them.”
A movie about the raid from “Hurt Locker” director Kathryn Bigelow will be released in December. While Bigelow’s film was held for release until after the elections to prevent it from being seen as a campaign video, trailers for the film are already being shown.
Bonjean said that it wasn’t in Romney’s political interest to try and fight Obama and the Democrats on the bin Laden raid, as it would only detract from his campaign’s core message.
“Republicans, instead of debating the Obama administration on national security, they’d rather take it to them on the economy, where [the Democrats are] extremely weak, and where the American people are going to vote on Election Day,” Bonjean said.