The Republican nominee sparked a furor late Tuesday when he offered a quick and blunt rebuke of steps the Obama administration took to try and tamp down a rapidly escalating protest in Cairo, Egypt, amid swirling regional violence.
"I know that we have heavy hearts across America today," Romney told a crowd of around 2,700 supporters in swing state Virginia, near the US capital.
"We've lost four of our diplomats across the world, we're thinking about their families and those that they've left behind."
But while calling the deaths "a tragedy," Romney did not repeat some of his earlier accusations that Obama's response amounted to an apology for American values and sympathy for the protesters.
He said he was prepared to hold a moment of silence for US ambassador Chris Stevens and the three others killed Tuesday in Benghazi, Libya, but opted to carry on with his speech, which was interrupted by a protester.
"Why are you politicizing Libya?" the man yelled, though he was drowned out by chants of "USA! USA!" and escorted out of the suburban park where the Republican candidate spoke.
Romney then shifted to one of his broader themes on the campaign trail, that the United States under Obama is no longer projecting the military might and strength it did in the past.
"Sometimes it seems that we're at the mercy of events instead of shaping events," Romney said.
"The world needs American leadership. The Middle East needs American leadership and I intend to be a president that provides the leadership that America respects and will keep us admired throughout the world."
Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, hammered Obama for what he said were cuts to the defense budget of almost half a trillion dollars over the next decade. Defense spending will actually increase over that period but at a slower rate than it did under the last Republican president, George W. Bush.
The White House hopeful also sought to blame Obama for another $500 billion in automatic defense cuts that will kick in next January if Congress does not act, though both Republicans and Democrats agreed to that reduction.
The moves will cut into what Romney described as the Pentagon's decades-old "capacity to be engaged in two conflicts at once."
Romney also returned to issues he routinely addresses on the stump: Obama's failure to speed up the recovery from recession, and the challenger's reminder that any of the 10 or so battleground states of the campaign could decide the outcome of the November 6 election.
Romney was making a clear play for the female vote in northern Virginia. All four speakers who addressed the crowd before Romney were women, though the candidate did not address gender-specific issues in his speech.
Polls show Romney trailing Obama among women likely voters, including a Washington Post/ABC survey this week showing him 11 points behind the incumbent.
Romney, a multimillionaire former businessman, who has endured criticism that he is out of touch with everyday voters, then mentioned something he rarely discusses on the campaign trail: the rich-poor gap.
Obama's presidency has "led to a larger and larger gap between the wealthier and the rest of America," he said.
The Romney campaign, which is trailing Obama slightly in several national polls, has repeatedly said the November 6 election will be a referendum on the president's economic record.
Romney has sought a 20-percent cut in personal income tax, and big cuts to federal spending as ways to stimulate growth, reduce US debt, and create 12 million jobs over four years.
Obama's campaign described the policies as "part of the same formula that crashed the economy and devastated the middle class in the first place."
"If he were serious about creating jobs, he wouldn't have endorsed policies, including tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans paid for by the middle class and deep cuts to critical investments like education, that even independent economists believe could drive us back into another recession," Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said.