DANVILLE, KY. -- In the closing days of the 2004 presidential campaign, the New York Times and "60 Minutes" reported that U.S. forces had lost track of hundreds of tons of dangerous munitions in Iraq. The story quickly dominated media coverage, and Democratic candidate John Kerry decided to devote the final stretch of his campaign to slamming President George W. Bush over the issue.
"Our country and our troops are less safe because this president failed to do the basics," Kerry said on the stump, citing "incredible incompetence" in the Bush White House. "My fellow Americans, we can't afford to risk four more years of George Bush's miscalculations."
If Kerry hoped the Iraq weapons issue would put him over the top, he was mistaken. He went on to lose by more than a million votes.
The Democrats had lots of other problems that year, but perhaps one lesson of the missing-weapons episode is that seizing on a last-minute event probably doesn't change the long-established dynamics of a race.
That's something Mitt Romney's supporters are keeping in mind as they consider new and damaging information about the Obama administration's handling of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead.
Evidence is mounting daily that the Obama administration not only mishandled the security issue in Libya but that top administration figures -- from the secretary of state to the UN ambassador to the president himself -- pushed a version of events that the administration knew was untrue.
Given all that, there are those in Romney's extended circle of aides and advisers who want to see the candidate come out swinging against Obama on the Libya issue. And then there are those who counsel holding back. Right now, the holding back forces are winning.
The case for coming out swinging: The scandal is both significant and revealing. Obama's top aides have wanted the public to believe that the fight against al Qaeda pretty much ended with the death of Osama bin Laden. And in their desire to present the chaotic, dangerous situation in Libya as "normal," they dangerously under-emphasized security for Ambassador Stevens and his staff. Then they misled the public about it.