Romney, GOP blast Obama comments on Chavez

US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addresses the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) annual convention in Houston, Texas on July 11, 2012. Romney brought his pro-jobs pitch to black voters Wednesday, aiming to poach defectors by arguing US President Barack Obama has left the economy 'worse for African-Americans in almost every way.' Blacks voted overwhelmingly for Democrat Obama over Republican nominee John McCain in 2008, but with US unemployment above eight percent and a recent spike up to 14.4 percent jobless among blacks, Romney hopes to win over disaffected voters.
President Barack Obama, left, and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, right.

(CBS News) After facing a tough crowd at the NAACP convention Wednesday, Mitt Romney's campaign pivoted to attacks on President Obama, targeting his recent suggestion that he does not consider Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez a "serious" national security threat as "naive" and "out of touch."

"I was stunned by his comments, and shocked by them. This is Hugo Chavez, this is Venezuela," said Romney, in a statement released by the campaign Wednesday afternoon. "The idea that this nation, this president doesn't pose a national security threat to this country is simply naive. It's an extraordinary admission on the part of this president to be completely out of touch with what's happened in Latin America."

Earlier this week, when asked about the U.S. relationship with Venezuela in an interview with Miami journalist, Mr. Obama suggested that Chavez presented no major threat to the U.S.

"We're always concerned about Iran engaging in destabilizing activity around the globe, but overall, my sense is, that what Mr. Chavez has done over the last several years has not had a serious national security impact on us," Mr. Obama said.

"We have to be vigilant," he added, but said that his "main concern when it comes to Venezuela" has to do with a lack of "fair and free elections" there.

Chavez, a controversial and outspoken figure, touts close ties with Cuba and Iran. Earlier this year, he made a joint public appearance with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and according to the Telegraph joked about the two having "a big atomic bomb."

"Latin America is critical to America, United States of America," said Romney, of the president's remarks. "And the President needs to focus on what's happening there, what Chavez is doing, what the Castros are doing. These are people who call for terrible acts against America and to suggest that somehow this is isn't important is, I think, a very misguided and misdirected thought on the part of our President."

Republican Senator Marco Rubio, Fla., piling on to the criticism of Mr. Obama's comments, called it "disturbingly clear" that Mr. Obama "has been living under a rock when it comes to recognizing the national security threat posed by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez."

In the daily press briefing Wednesday, White House spokesperson Jay Carney deferred a question about Mr. Obama's comment to the State Department, saying that he hadn't read the story and didn't know "the underlying aspect of it."

But Ben LaBolt, Obama's campaign press secretary, contended that Romney's rebuke was merely "playing into" Chavez's hands.

"People like Hugo Chavez want attention - and that's exactly what Mitt Romney and his supporters gave him today," LaBolt said in a statement. "Governor Romney is only playing into the hands of Chavez by acting like he's ten feet tall."