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In A Static Race, Campaigns On Hold After Shooting


After Friday's deadly shootings there were quick responses from both President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney. And an old debate over gun restrictions was reignited.

For more on that, and all the politics of the week, we turn to NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hi, Mara.


WERTHEIMER: So Mara, both candidates were quick to condemn the shootings, offer words of comfort. Later today, the president will go to Aurora. One thing noticeably not mentioned by either one was the issue of guns.

LIASSON: Yes, it seems that although there has been discussion about whether gun laws should be re-examined in the wake of this tragedy, it is not coming from the candidates. The Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004, it seems like that's probably one of the only laws that might have affected this alleged shooter. He did use an Assault Weapons Ban. But neither party is talking about it. The Democrats are noticeably silent about reenacting that ban. So I just don't think that this discussion is going to be prompted by this tragedy.

WERTHEIMER: Both candidates put their campaigns and the campaign advertising on hold after the shootings in Aurora. And that pause in hitting the battleground states will go on a little bit longer for Mr. Romney. On Wednesday, Mitt Romney embarks on a major international offensive - a trip. He is going to London for the Olympics, and to Israel and Poland. Why is he leaving the country and what do you think he's going to accomplish?

LIASSON: Well, this is the kind of right of passage for challengers. Barack Obama also went to Europe when he was running for president in 2008; gave a big speech to 200,000 people in Berlin. It's important that Romney is seen as somebody who looks like a president, meets with foreign leaders. We don't think that he's going to lay out a very clear contrast with the president on foreign-policy; he hasn't to date.

But it's important to go to Israel. It helps him appeal to not only Jewish voters in the United States, but Christian evangelicals. And in Poland, I think you'll be making an indirect play for the Catholic vote, which is a real bellwether in presidential elections.

WERTHEIMER: Now, Mara, before the events in Colorado shut everything down for a few days, the president had unleashed a series of attacks on Mr. Romney on his record at Bain, his offshore accounts, on not disclosing more than the two most recent years' worth of tax returns. Does that seem to be working, do you think, for the president?

LIASSON: Well, that is a really good question. It certainly kept Romney occupied for while. He had to give a lot of defensive-sounding interviews. But one thing that's been a remarkable about this campaign is how the horserace numbers have not budged. They've been really set in concrete. This race is a dead heat. In our recent NPR poll, we had 47/45, the president over Romney by two points nationally. And a complete tie, 46 to 46 in the battleground states. So it's certainly not moving them big numbers.

By the Obama campaign says, look at the internals. Romney's negatives are going up and the number of people who say that Romney's business background, which is his name calling card - the heart of his argument for why he should be president - is seen as more of a negative than a positive.

WERTHEIMER: Mara, Mr. Romney is leaving home without telling us who his running mate will be. Can you tell us anything about that - quickly?

LIASSON: Well, we expect them to announce a running mate very soon after he comes back. And I think that Rob Portman and Tim Pawlenty are still the top two contenders.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Linda,

WERTHEIMER: Mara Liasson is NPR's national political correspondent. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.