Discuss as:

Romney puts softer edge on Libya criticism


FAIRFAX, VA -- Mitt Romney kept up with his criticism of President Barack Obama's handling of a diplomatic crisis in Libya, but softened his tone ever so slightly amid scrutiny of the GOP presidential candidate's initial criticism of the president.

“As we watch the world today, sometimes it seems that we’re at the mercy of events, instead of shaping events, and a strong America is essential to shape events. And a strong American, by the way, depends on a strong military," Romney said, launching into a critique of pending military budget cuts.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns at a rally in Fairfax, Virginia.

"The world needs American leadership. The Middle East needs American leadership," Romney continued. "And I intend to be a President that provides the leadership that America respects and will keep us admired throughout the world.”

Romney's words, a day after a coordinated assault on a diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, left America's ambassador to that country, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans dead, represent a downshift in rhetoric from Wednesday.

Related: Romney ratchets up criticism of Obama on initial response to embassy attacks

Yesterday, Romney followed a harshly written statement criticizing the administration -- released as events were still unfolding at an American consulate under attack in Libya -- with a press conference doubling down on what he called a weak response by the Obama White House. Today, Romney's only overt mention of Libya and the death of the U.S. ambassador and four others there, was a statement of mourning and an attempted moment of silence which was disrupted by a protester.

"I also recognize that right now were in mourning, we've lost four of our diplomats across the world. We're thinking about their families and those that they've left behind," Romney said as a protester ripped a Romney sign in half and began shouting at Romney for politicizing the attacks in Libya. "I would offer a moment of silence but one gentleman doesn't want to be silent so were going to keep on going."

Recommended: First Thoughts: A tricky situation

The GOP contender returned to firmer footing today in the shadow of the nation's capital by renewing his economic attacks on the president, accusing Obama of failing to offer any new ideas to fix a troubled economy, and attempting to claim the mantle of change.

"His policies have not worked. How in the world he can go before a Democrat convention and speak to the nation and offer nothing but more of the same is beyond me," Romney said. "We want real change.  I’m going to bring real change and get America working again.”

Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets supporters after speaking at a campaign rally in Fairfax, Va., on September 13, 2012.

"These policies won’t make America stronger- they’re part of the same formula that crashed the economy and devastated the middle class in the first place. America can’t afford to go back," said Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, in response.

Surrounded on stage by women, and introduced by four female speakers, Romney's intended audience today was clear. Polling has indicated Romney consistently trailing Obama with women voters, but several recent surveys have shown the challenger gaining some support.