Critics have charged that the Obama administration deliberately misled the public about the nature of deadly assault on the diplomatic mission that killed ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American diplomatic personnel by delaying in labeling it a terrorist attack -- rather than a spontaneous outbreak of violence amid protests over an anti-Muslim film. Obama administration officials have said their statements evolved as they learned more about the nature of the attack in the following days and weeks.
That explanation has come under fire from Republican, including Romney and Paul Ryan, who had begun featuring the attack in Libya prominently in their stump speech. It's a smart line of attack, according to GOP Insiders.
"The October Surprise is how inept the Obama Administration has been in handling the Benghazi terrorist attack," said one Republican. "Could well doom his re-election."
Another Republican added: "Looks like incompetence or failure to tell the truth. Inconceivable WH didn't know it was a terrorist act."
Some Democrats piled on, charging the president had weakened one area - foreign policy - where he held a clear advantage over Romney.
"Until the attack, foreign policy had been an undisputed high mark for the Administration yet the Benghazi incident has called this into question all because of a mangled response," said a Democratic Insider. "And this is the guy who got bin Laden."
If there's a silver lining for the Obama campaign, Insiders say, it's the Romney campaign's own bungling of the issue. Critics assailed the GOP nominee last month for politicizing the just hours after its occurrence -- before it was revealed Ambassador Stevens had died. And again on Tuesday, Romney seemed to fumble the issue when debate moderator Candy Crowley corrected Romney for saying the president had not called it a terrorist attack.
"It would be very damaging except that Governor Romney keeps making missteps on the issue," one Republican Insider said.
Many Democrats felt Obama's answer during the debate turned the issue into a winner for him.
"The President's strong response last night turned this into a question of leadership which he won," a Democratic operative said. "Showed strength and made Romney look too political."