VAN METER, Iowa—For weeks, Mitt Romney has hammered President Barack Obama's response to the deadly attacks on the United States Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which claimed the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
But what Romney has never said on the campaign stump until today is that he had previously met one of the victims: Glen Doherty, a former Navy SEAL who was working as a State Department contractor in Libya.
Speaking at a rally held at a family farm about 20 miles outside Des Moines, Romney was telling the crowd a random story about how he had once mistakenly crashed a neighbor's Christmas party near his house in La Jolla, Calif., thinking it was the neighborhood's annual holiday party. He spoke about how kind people had been to him there, even though he and his wife, Ann, had intruded.
"I got to meet some really interesting people. One of them was a guy actually from my home state of Massachusetts—a relatively young guy compared to me," Romney said.
The man was a former Navy SEAL living in San Diego, Romney explained without giving Doherty's name. That night, the two talked about interests they shared: They both loved to ski and had explored some of the same slopes.
"We had a lot of things in common," Romney said. "He told me that he keeps going back to the Middle East. He cared very deeply about the people there. He served in the military there, went back from time to time to offer security services and so forth to people there."
"You can imagine how I felt when I found out that he was one of the two former Navy SEALS killed in Benghazi on Sept. 11th," Romney continued. "And it touched me obviously that I recognized that this young man that I thought was so impressive has lost his life in the service of his fellow men and women."
Citing a CNN report that Doherty had been killed while trying to help others at the consulate, Romney expressed his admiration—and likened it to the leadership he says the country needs now in Washington.
"When he and his colleagues there heard that the consulate was under attack ... they went there. They didn't hunker down where they were in safety. They rushed there to go help," Romney said. "This is the American way: We go where there's trouble. We go where we're needed. And right now we're needed. Right now the American people need us."
Romney's tale of meeting Doherty came as the GOP candidate has moved to add more personal stories to his stump speech in recent days as a way of better connecting with voters. And it came a day after Romney gave a hard-hitting speech trashing Obama's handling of and response to the attacks in Libya.
Romney did not mention that criticism in bringing up Doherty, whom he never identified. On Sept. 13, Romney and his wife issued a statement offering condolences to Doherty's friends and family—but the campaign did not mention the candidate had previously met the former Navy SEAL.
According to a campaign spokesman, Romney was not sure the SEAL he met was Doherty until last week, when a neighbor called to tell him.