By Steve Holland
VAN METER, Iowa (Reuters) - A day after blasting President Barack Obama's handling of the deadly assault by militants on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya last month, Mitt Romney revealed on Tuesday that he had met one of the four Americans killed in the attack.
The Republican presidential candidate departed from an otherwise upbeat campaign speech to recount a chance meeting with Glen Doherty, a former Navy SEAL who was among three Americans who died with U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens in the attack on September 11.
Romney said he and his wife, Ann, were at their vacation home in La Jolla, California around Christmas a couple of years ago when they received a flyer inviting them to a neighborhood party.
On the night of the party, Romney saw lights on at a nearby house and people on the porch. The Romneys went there.
"We came in, they had dinner, we had dinner together, we got pictures of everybody," Romney recalled. "It turns out this was not the neighborhood party. This was a family having a party with their friends."
There were several military people at the party; Doherty was one of them. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said he learned that Doherty was from his home state. Doherty told Romney he had served in the Middle East, cared about the people there and looked forward to returning.
"You can imagine how I felt when I found out that he was one of the two former Navy SEALS killed in Benghazi on September 11," Romney told the crowd in Iowa, pausing for a moment. "And it touched me, obviously, as I recognized that this young man that I felt was so impressive had lost his life in the service of his fellow men and women."
Romney did not identify Doherty by name, but his campaign later confirmed that Romney was referring to Doherty, 42, who lived in Encinitas, California.
Romney said the death of Doherty, who was working as a security contractor in Benghazi, was an example of America's leadership role in the world and why it must be maintained.
The Republican nominee has been telling personal stories on the campaign trail lately to try to show a warmer side to his sometimes stiff personality, and counter Democrats' portrayals of him as an elitist who is out of touch with the concerns of most Americans.
Romney did not know for sure that Doherty was the same former SEAL he had met until his neighbor reached out during the past week to tell him, his campaign said.
Romney said he had read reports that the two former SEALS at the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Doherty and Tyrone Woods, were in a separate building and had rushed to the consulate building under attack.
"They went there. They didn't hunker down where they were in safety," Romney said. "They rushed there to go help. This is the American way. We go where there's trouble. We go where we're needed." (Editing by David Lindsey and Christopher Wilson)