JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Rather than holding a campaign rally in Mandarin on Wednesday morning, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney condemned the overnight attack on the American embassy in Libya that killed four U.S. diplomats, calling it outrageous, disgusting and heartbreaking.
"We mourn their loss and join together in prayer," Romney said. "With these words, I extend my condolences to the grieving loved ones. I know that people across America are grateful for their service."
Romney jumped to criticize Obama Tuesday night as the attacks were being waged on U.S. diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya, saying the administration's early response seemed to sympathize with the attackers who were protesting an obscure film by a California filmmaker that ridiculed Islam's Prophet Muhammad.
During nine minutes of remarks and answers to media questions Wednesday morning, Romney continued to question Obama administration's initial handling of the killings, calling saying "mixed signals" were given by the state department before the extent of the incident was known. Romney said the statement from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo was "akin to apology" and a "severe miscalculation."
Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt responded Tuesday night that the campaign was "shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Gov. Romney would choose to launch a political attack."
Romney supporters disappointed but understanding
About 150 supporters who had arrived at the San Jose Boulevard location as early as 7:30 a.m. Wednesday were cleared from the room about 9:45 a.m. -- 15 minutes after Romney was scheduled to address them. The room was reset for Romney's address to the media in the room, but speakers were placed outside the San Jose Boulevard storefront so the supporters could hear Romney speak.
Supporters peered through the windows as their candidate faced the national media.
"I thought it was perfectly appropriate," Bonnie Nault said. "I'm retired military, and the attack on the ambassador was absolutely despicable. And the fact that they had to call a press conference was understandable -- totally understandable. I could totally understand having to get out for that."
After Romney's statement to the national media, the supporters were allowed back in and the candidate apologized his speech was was cancelled, then mingled and posed for photos for a few minutes.
"I'm glad he came out and spoke to the people who still wanted to see him," Craig Harms said.
Romney then went on to a $2,500-a-plate luncheon at the Hyatt Hotel.
This was Romney's second visit to Jacksonville in two weeks, having attended a public rally Labor Day weekend with his running mate, Paul Ryan.
Romney's wife, Ann, appeared at the Mandarin campaign office on Tuesday, speaking to supporters and helping stuff USO care packages for soldiers.
"Florida is a must win state for Mitt Romney and if we're going to win the White House. We will win the White House," Chairman of the Republican party of Florida Lenny Curry said. "But we have to go through Florida."
Both Romney and President Obama are spending millions of dollars in visits to the Sunshine State and on the airwaves trying to rally up support.
"President Obama's going to be spending up to $3 million a day in Florida," Curry said. "So we want to make sure Gov. Romney has the resources to get the message out."
"They understand the importance of Gov. Romney having the money to get his message out because Florida is so large and so diverse, and there's so many media markets and it's expensive to play on television," Curry said. "You can't win Florida without playing a lot of television and that takes a lot of money."
With 29 electoral votes up for grabs, experts said whichever candidate wins Florida will likely win the entire election. The polls are still unable to indicate which candidate will come out on top.
"President Obama picked up 49 percent in 2008 in Duval County. That can't happen again," Curry said. "Gov. Romney is going to have to carry Duval County by a much larger margin than John McCain did for us to win the state of Florida. This is a battleground county and a battleground state."
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