Venezuelan Election: Romney Accuses Obama Of Being Soft on Chávez

The reaction from the Obama administration to Chávez's victory has been somewhat muted. The State Department recognized the result of the election, but urged Chávez to respect Capriles' supporters, who want more democratic reforms.

"We congratulate the Venezuelan people for the high turnout and generally peaceful manner in which this election was carried out," State Department spokesman William Ostick said in a statement to ABC/Univision. "We believe that the views of the more than six million people who voted for the opposition should be taken into account going forward."

White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One that "We have our differences with President Chavez ... But we congratulate the Venezuelan people" for a "peaceful" election process.

Throughout his time in power, Chávez has postured as an enemy of the U.S. and has aligned himself with other socialist-governed nations in the Western Hemisphere such as Cuba, Ecuador, and Bolivia.

Romney's statement came as he is looking to improve his support among Florida's Hispanic voters, which include a large population of Cuban-Americans who are deeply opposed to the Castro government and a newer, but growing cadre of Venezuelans who largely dislike Chávez.

The Venezuelan president has provoked special anger from conservatives and Republicans in the U.S. stemming from his toxic relationship with President George W. Bush, whom he referred to as a "devil." He has also intermittently embraced Obama during the latter's first term in office.

The Venezuelan leader said late last month that he would vote for Obama if he lived in the U.S. and said that he hopes to resume "normal relations" with the U.S. if both are reelected.

"I hope this doesn't harm Obama, but if I was from the United States, I'd vote for Obama," he said.

Some observers had believed that Chávez would have a less rancorous relationship with Obama than he had with Bush, the Venezuelan strongman criticized Obama for carrying out foreign policies similar to his predecessor. Still, Republicans have seized on the endorsement as a telling sign.

"Americans need to ask themselves: what does it say about President Obama's weakness on foreign policy matters that our allies like Israel openly express frustration with him, while our enemies like Hugo Chávez openly endorse his reelection?" said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in a statement Monday.

The Obama administration has expressed disapproval over Chávez's leadership, but the president has viewed him as less of a threat to the region than Bush did. Over the summer, Romney and his allies pounced on Obama's statement to a Miami TV station that Chávez does not present a serious national security threat to the United States, even though he has formed a relationship with the Iranian regime.

"As president, I will speak clearly and resolutely on the challenges we face so that both our allies and our adversaries will know where we stand," Romney said in a statement in July.

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