Republicans intensified their criticism of President Barack Obama's foreign policy on Monday, noting questions about his administration's accounting of last month's deadly attack on an American diplomatic post in Libya and the U.S. response to Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Obama's campaign recast a theme it has hit repeatedly, announcing an ad to run in battleground states on Republican nominee Mitt Romney's business past.
Both Romney and Obama spent Monday preparing for Wednesday night's first presidential debate in Denver with polls showing a tight race overall.
Romney said in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that the United States could be brought into another fight if the turmoil in the Middle East is not calmed.
"We're not moving them in a direction that protects our people or our allies. And that's dangerous," Romney wrote, referring to current policy on Iran that he says puts Israel at risk.
"If the Middle East descends into chaos, if Iran moves toward nuclear breakout, or if Israel's security is compromised, America could be pulled into the maelstrom," Romney wrote.
His running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, separately criticized the Obama administration's response to the September 11 attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
He noted the revised account of what occurred at the consulate - first described as an attack that U.S. officials thought grew out of a spontaneous demonstration against an anti-Muslim film. The intelligence community said on Friday it now believes the attack was "a deliberate and organized terrorist assault carried out by extremists" affiliated or sympathetic with al Qaeda.
"We've seen a confused, slow, inconsistent response to what is now very clearly known as a terrorist act," Ryan said in a radio interview with Laura Ingraham on Monday.
Romney will continue to focus on foreign policy and the economy heading into the debate, according to a campaign memo obtained by CNN and campaign advisers who spoke Monday on a conference call.
"Governor Romney will, over the next few weeks, crystallize the choice for voters on the issue of foreign policy and national security," said senior adviser Kevin Madden, adding that Romney would "lay out a stronger vision for American foreign policy based on the strong leadership that we need to shape world events and protect American interests and ideals."
Obama spent Monday in Nevada preparing for the debate, while Romney began his day in Boston and then flew to Colorado.
The Obama campaign recast the narrative of Romney's business past as part of its heavy emphasis on portraying him as an out-of-touch executive who led a company that sent jobs overseas or cut employment at home.
The campaign announced a new ad linking Romney's former private equity firm, Bain Capital, to a Chinese appliance company that the Obama campaign said relied on American outsourcing for its success. The campaign would target battleground states but did not say when the ad would air.
First on CNN: Romney campaign to unleash 'robust' spending
The Romney campaign is planning to unleash "robust" spending in the final five weeks of the election campaign, a memo provided to CNN by a Republican source said.
"We will spend as much in paid advertising, direct mail, and field operations in the next five weeks as we have spent since becoming the presumptive nominee," according to the memo by Spencer Zwick, the campaign's National Finance chairman, and Mason Fink, the campaign's National Finance director.
Poll: horse race for presidency neck and neck
A CNN/ORC poll released on Monday showed Obama and Romney in a close race.
Asked who they would vote for today, 50% of likely voters said they would cast a ballot for the president while 47% chose Romney. The difference of 3% is within the margin of error.
Neither candidate had an edge on the economy, which remains the top issue for Americans and is a focus of the first debate.
Obama, who has been pressured by Romney over his handling of an economy that has experienced slow growth and high unemployment for much of his White House term, got some good news on Monday.
A leading survey of purchasing managers for September reflected the first expansion of the U.S. manufacturing sector in four months. But all eyes will be on the labor market with figures about private sector job growth and Friday's monthly jobs report from the Labor Department still on tap.
A majority of voters aren't expecting Romney to be victorious in the first debate.
According to an ABC News/Washington Post national poll released Monday, 55% of likely voters say they think the president will win the debate with 31% saying that Romney will come out on top.