President Obama's campaign team is dispatching Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday to champion the administration's foreign policy achievements, an opening salvo to inoculate the president from the type of attacks that have hampered Democrats in recent White House contests.
Speaking in New York as the first anniversary of the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden approaches, Biden will contrast the administration's record with the "empty rhetoric of Gov. Mitt Romney," the presumptive Republican nominee, campaign officials said.
That the Obama campaign is trumpeting foreign policy at the onset of the fall race highlights its confidence on an issue on which the public generally gives the president high marks.
With a series of killings of terrorist leaders, including bin Laden, the successful NATO mission in Libya and lack of major foreign policy blunders, analysts say Obama has burnished foreign-policy credentials his Democratic predecessors lacked.
"I think the Republicans right now have no way of making foreign policy a consequential issue in this campaign," said Aaron David Miller, a Middle East peace negotiator in the Clinton administration. "The Republicans don't have a good wrap on this because Romney has the ghost of George W. Bush sitting on one shoulder."
It's a dramatic shift for Obama, for whom a lack of national security bona fides was one of his biggest liabilities in the 2008 campaign. His Democratic opponent, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, ran an ad questioning Obama's qualifications to deal with a "3 a.m. phone call" about a global crisis.
Romney's campaign, however, isn't ceding military issues to Obama.
Romney and fellow Republicans blistered Obama for telling outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev -- in remarks captured on a nearby microphone -- that he would have more "flexibility" on missile defense after the fall election.
And Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., widely seen as a potential running mate for Romney, on Wednesday launched an attack against the president's handling of foreign affairs.
"I know some here might disagree, and certainly the president would, but I feel like we have gotten precious little from Russia in exchange for concessions on nuclear weapons," Rubio said in a speech in Washington. He chided Obama for an "overreliance on global institutions" that undercuts America's role as a global leader.
The one advantage Romney may have is that the economy, not foreign policy, remains voters' top concern. At most, Obama's national security record could simply neutralize a traditional Democratic liability -- the perception that they are weaker than Republicans on such matters, analysts said.
"I think it's a wash. It's not going to hurt him, but it's not going to help him either," Miller said. "It's going to be about the economy."