WASHINGTON - Potential Republican presidential candidates have little choice but to let President Barack Obama savor his Osama bin Laden victory before ramping up their criticism of his handling of the US economy.
The successful raid that killed bin Laden at his compound in Pakistan has largely bumped to the background the Republican campaign to pick a successor to oppose him in 2012.
The first televised debate among several Republicans is planned for Thursday in South Carolina, the day Obama is to take a bin Laden victory lap at New York's Ground Zero.
The foreign policy victory comes at a time when the Republican field is unsettled and slow to start, with no White House hopeful seen as a front-runner and some voters clamoring for more big-name choices.
Republicans say the best policy right now is to let Obama have his day and draw attention to a shaky economy beset by high unemployment, rising gasoline prices and a dire fiscal situation, which they believe are fertile ground for denying Obama a second term.
"He's going to have a good victory for a week, it's well-deserved," said Republican strategist Scott Reed. "But next week Republicans should get back on their game of hammering on the economy, jobs, gas prices and his budget deficit."
Experts believe the election will be won or lost based on how the economy is doing and say foreign policy achievements rarely have long-lasting effects for modern presidents.
"While you cannot divorce the president's role from commander-in-chief, this week's events will certainly not guarantee a second term," said presidential historian Thomas Alan Schwartz of Vanderbilt University.
The Republicans' response to Monday's killing of bin Laden has been varied. Three top potential candidates, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Mike Huckabee, have offered congratulations to Obama while stressing it was a victory for the US military.
Romney told reporters in New Hampshire on Tuesday he did not know if the bin Laden success helps or hurts Obama politically.