Middle East violence is shaking up a presidential race that otherwise looks stubbornly stable, and tight.
President Barack Obama holds a tiny edge, Republican Mitt Romney is seeking a breakthrough message, and three debates are ahead in the campaign's final seven weeks.
Republicans and Democrats agree the election probably will be decided on Obama's jobs-and-economy record.
Both campaigns are gearing up for the new week by trying to shift the focus back to that issue. But foreign policy leaped to the forefront in recent days when protesters attacked United States diplomats and missions in the Middle East, and it's unclear when it will recede.
Criticisms of Romney's quick-draw response to the protests underscored both his foreign policy vulnerabilities and the difficulty in knocking off an incumbent, especially one who remains relatively well-liked despite a struggling economy. Obama used the trappings of the presidency to full advantage. He led sombre events honouring the four US officials killed in Libya. He also needled his challenger by saying that Romney "seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later".
ROMNEY RISKING RECOVERY
As unrest abroad continues, Obama is launching an aggressive effort to convince voters in the most competitive states - Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia - that his economic policies are working and that Romney is risking the nation's recovery with a plan that caters to multimillionaires over the middle class.
"They want to go back to the same old policies that got us in trouble in the first place," former President Bill Clinton is shown saying in a 60-second TV ad.
Romney is trying to get back to the economy, his strength, even as a new national survey by The New York Times and CBS News finds that he has lost his long-standing edge on the question of whom voters view as most likely to restore the economy and create jobs.
Voters are feeling slightly more optimistic that the president's policies are helping. Still, that poll and others found the race narrowly divided.
"Beating an incumbent is never easy," Romney told ABC last Friday.
He dismissed polls that show Obama ahead. "I'm doing well ... and this is a campaign which I think will come into focus as the debates occur."
Frustration is showing in some GOP circles because Romney has failed to move ahead of Obama despite months of highlighting the nation's high jobless rate and the millions of dollars spent pushing an economic message on TV.
Romney allies are urging him to find a message that will persuade disillusioned voters to give him a chance. They reject the notion that Romney is careening from topic to topic, despite recent emphases on Medicare and international leadership.
Diverse advice is pouring into Romney's camp: Paint Obama as a weak leader at home and abroad; shift the focus firmly back to the economy; fire up the conservative base; concentrate on the relatively small number of undecided voters.
Some of Romney's associates, including his running mate, say personality, not policy, may hold the key to reassuring wary voters.
"I'm not the only one who has told Mitt that maybe he needs to talk more about himself and his life," Paul Ryan, the GOP's vice-presidential nominee, told conservative activists last Friday.
The buttoned-down Romney has relatively little time to show a warmer, more assuring side to voters. Three presidential debates in October may offer his best chance.
In the race to reach 270 electoral votes for victory, polls suggest Obama holds slight edges in the crucial states of Ohio, Florida, Virginia and New Hampshire.
And internal polling by both campaigns shows close races in Colorado, Iowa and Nevada. Both sides agree that Romney is doing better in North Carolina, which Obama narrowly carried in 2008.