LONDON — Mitt Romney — a one-term governor untested on the world's political stage — faces high stakes in the coming week during visits to England, Israel and Poland. It's a trip that amounts to an international audition.
The Republican presidential candidate is seeking to persuade voters back home to elect him their leader in a complex, dangerous world. And his trip will invite comparisons to Barack Obama's successful overseas 2008 tour before he won the White House.
Romney, whose decades in private business gave him ample exposure to international affairs, hopes to prove that he is no novice on foreign policy. At the same time, he'll be highlighting a key part of his resume — the successful Salt Lake City Olympics he managed — with a visit to the opening days of the London Games. He's also planned a series of meetings — and photo events — with political leaders in the three countries he's visiting in hopes of projecting an image of leadership.
His itinerary is limited to a few tightly controlled appearances in countries that are close allies of the United States, suggesting that Romney knows there are risks as well as potential benefits to his trip.
Romney will visit two countries in Europe, a continent he's spent most of his campaign criticizing. Beyond that, he's certain to face pressure to outline where he stands on such weighty matters as missile defense, Afghanistan troop levels, violence raging in Syria, the nuclear threat from Iran and the Middle East peace process, putting him on the spot to add details to a foreign policy vision that so far has been short on them.
He also faces the tricky task of contrasting himself with Obama while staying true to his promise not to openly assail the president while on foreign soil, honoring longstanding tradition that American politicians don't criticize their government while abroad.
"I don't want to be in any way critical of the president or to be fashioning foreign policy departure from the president while I'm on foreign soil," Romney told NBC News during a Wednesday interview in London when asked about how he would help Israel as president.
The trip also will keep Romney off the campaign trail for a full week as Obama hammers him in states essential to winning the 270 Electoral College votes needed for victory in November. Republican presidential candidates traditionally have had an advantage over their Democratic opponents on foreign policy and national security. But an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday shows that Americans, by a 10-point margin, trust Obama as commander in chief over Romney.
Just over 100 days until the election, polls show the race close, and Democrats and Republicans agree that it's likely to remain so heading into the fall. In tight races, anything can tip the balance — a foreign trip included.
Romney will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, though he won't spend time with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Romney advisers are mum on whether he plans to go to the West Bank to meet Fayyad or whether he will hold the meeting in Israel, a decision that could be viewed as a snub to the Palestinian Authority.