(CNN) - Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama traded barbs Wednesday over Obama's national security assessment of Venezuela in an interview, with Romney calling the comments "stunning and shocking" and Obama's campaign saying Romney “was only playing into the hands” of that nation’s dictator.
Romney was joined by several prominent Republicans as well as the Republican National Committee, which called Obama "out of touch.” Obama demonstrates "an alarmingly naïve understanding of the challenges and opportunities we face in the Western Hemisphere," Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said in a statement.
- Follow the Ticker on Twitter: @PoliticalTicker
- Check out the CNN Electoral Map and Calculator and game out your own strategy for November.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt responded early Wednesday evening, saying it is "disturbing that Mitt Romney is trying to score cheap political points by blustering and misrepresenting the President's record while failing to outline any coherent foreign policy strategy."
The president told a local Miami television station on Tuesday that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has had little impact on the U.S. of late but the South American country requires continued attention particularly when it comes to Iranian influence.
"We're always concerned about Iran engaging in destabilizing activity around the globe," Obama told Miami's WJAN. "But overall my sense is that what Mr. Chávez has done over the last several years has not had a serious national security impact on us.
"We have to be vigilant," he continued. "My main concern when it comes to Venezuela is having the Venezuelan people have a voice in their affairs, and that you end up ultimately having fair and free elections, which we don't always see."
Latino voters, who are particularly concerned about Chavez's rule of Venezuela, make up a voting bloc seen as crucial this year.
Venezuela has supplied the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with several shipments of diesel fuel at a time when the U.S. and other nations are imposing sanctions on the country as the government continues a deadly crackdown on the uprising against his regime.
In January, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad toured several Latin American countries and met with Chavez, who said his country and Iran would work together against the "imperial insanity" of the United States, which he called a "threat for the world."
Romney's statement was sharply critical of Obama - blasting him for a continued "pattern of weakness in his foreign policy," but offered no specifics about what he would do differently from Obama.
"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.
His criticism of Obama argued it was "disturbing to see him downplaying the threat posed to U.S. interests by a regime that openly wishes us ill."
"Hugo Chavez has provided safe haven to drug kingpins, encouraged regional terrorist organizations that threaten our allies like Colombia, has strengthened military ties with Iran and helped it evade sanctions, and has allowed a Hezbollah presence within his country's borders," Romney said. "And he is seeking to lead – together with the Castros – a destabilizing, anti-democratic, and anti-American 'Bolivarian Revolution' across Latin America."
His campaign also bolstered the critical paper statement from Romney with similarly harsh statements from Romney campaign surrogates, including Rep. Connie Mack of Florida and former Gov. John Sununu.
Obama's campaign spokesman responded with a statement which said Romney "is only playing into the hands of Chavez by acting like he's ten feet tall."
"It's baffling that Mitt Romney is so scared of a leader like Chavez whose power is fading, while Romney continues to remain silent about how to confront al-Qaeda or how to bring our troops home from Afghanistan," LaBolt said in a statement. "People like Hugo Chavez want attention – and that's exactly what Mitt Romney and his supporters gave him today."
LaBolt added that the U.S. "is much stronger today than before [Obama] took office" while "Chavez has become increasingly marginalized and his influence has waned."
Romney has criticized Obama on a range of foreign policy issues - including the handling of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, relations with China and Russia, and the administration's handling of the Arab Spring uprisings.