WASHINGTON (AP) - One week before the Iowa caucuses, thev assassination of former Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto pushed terrorism to the forefront in voters' minds and highlighted the candidacies of presidential hopefuls with long records on national security.
Bhutto's assassination on Thursday rippled through the presidential race as candidates scrambled to respond and adjusted campaign plans on a day overshadowed by the terrorist attack in Rawalpindi.
The deadly incident at an election rally in Pakistan could help presidential candidates such as Republican Rudy Giuliani, who was in charge of New York City when terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001, and Vietnam War veteran John McCain, a longtime member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Rodham Clinton has argued that her experience makes her prepared to lead the nation in troubled times. Rival Barack Obama has pushed a hard line in dealing with Pakistan and the search for Osama bin Laden.
Clinton said she had come to know Bhutto during the former prime minister's years in office and her time in exile and was "profoundly saddened and outraged" by the assassination.
"She returned to Pakistan to fight for democracy despite threats and previous attempts on her life, and now she has made the ultimate sacrifice. Her death is a tragedy for her country and a terrible reminder of the work that remains to bring peace, stability and hope to regions of the globe too often paralyzed by fear, hatred, and violence," Clinton said in a statement.
Giuliani said the assassination underscored a need for the U.S. to increase its efforts to combat terrorism.
"Her murderers must be brought to justice, and Pakistan must continue the path back to democracy and the rule of law," Giuliani said in a statement. "Her death is a reminder that terrorism anywhere - whether in New York, London, Tel-Aviv or Rawalpindi - is an enemy of freedom. We must redouble our efforts to win the terrorists' war on us."
McCain, in a statement, said the death of Bhutto "underscores yet again the grave dangers we face in the world today and particularly in countries like Pakistan, where the forces of moderation are arrayed in a fierce battle against those who embrace violent Islamic extremism.
"Given Pakistan's strategic location, the international terrorist groups that operate from its soil, and its nuclear arsenal, the future of that country has deep implications for the security of the United States and its allies. America must stand on the right side of this ongoing struggle," he said, noting that he has made numerous visits to Pakistan.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney focused on the threat of "global, violent radical jihadism."
"This type of loss of life points out again the need for our nation and other civilized nations of the West and Muslim world to come together to support moderate Islamic leaders and moderate Islamic people to help them in their effort to reject the violence and the extreme," Romney told reporters after his first campaign event at Norton's Classic Cafe, in Hudson, N.H. "The world is very much at risk by virtue of these radical, violent extremists and we must come together, in great haste and great earnestness, to help overcome the threat of the spread of radical, violent jihad."
On Wednesday night, Romney had criticized Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf for imposing martial law. Romney was asked if he had more sympathy for such action given the attack on Bhutto.
"I believe it was a mistake. I believe as well that martial law was principally imposed by him to protect himself from political challenge, a challenge from the Supreme Court and others, and believe that it was not a productive course for his nation," Romney said.
Obama said he was shocked and saddened by Bhutto's death.
"She was a respected and resilient advocate for the democratic aspirations of the Pakistani people. We join with them in mourning her loss, and stand with them in their quest for democracy and against the terrorists who threaten the common security of the world," he said.
Republican candidate Mike Huckabee said the assassination was "devastating news for the people of Pakistan, and my prayers go out to them."
"The terrible violence surrounding Pakistan's upcoming election stands in stark contrast to the peaceful transition of power that we embrace in our country through our Constitution," Huckabee said in a statement.
Democratic New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called on President Bush to force Musharraf to step down. Until then, Richardson said the U.S. must suspend military aid to the Pakistani government.
"A leader has died, but democracy must live. The United States government cannot stand by and allow Pakistan's return to democracy to be derailed or delayed by violence," Richardson said.
The Bush administration has pushed hard for peaceful elections in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation led by Musharraf, a U.S. ally in the anti-terror war.
Bhutto was killed in an attack on an election rally in Rawalpindi. Many others were killed in a blast that took place as Bhutto left the rally where she had addressed thousands of supporters in her campaign for Jan. 8 parliamentary elections.
Bhutto served twice as Pakistan's prime minister between 1988 and 1996. She had returned to Pakistan from an eight-year exile Oct. 18. Her homecoming parade in Karachi was also targeted by a suicide attacker, and more than 140 people were killed. On that occasion she narrowly escaped injury.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)