President Barack Obama courted the voters who fueled his victory in Virginia four years ago as he tries to hold the once-solidly Republican state in November.
Obama, with a refreshed populist message on taxes, focused on military families and the economy in the first stop on a two- day swing through the state’s so-called golden crescent: the Washington suburbs of northern Virginia south through Richmond and Hampton Roads, where most of the population is concentrated.
“When we win Virginia we’re going to have won the election,” Obama told the overflow crowd at Green Run High School in Virginia Beach, where he went after meeting with the spouses of service members at a local café.
Obama was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia since Lyndon Johnson did it in 1964, and capturing the state’s 13 Electoral College votes in November is part of the victory map for both Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.
While Obama took the state by six percentage points in 2008, both campaigns are forecasting a close contest this year. Obama held a three percentage point lead over Romney in an average of six polls taken since mid-May, as compiled by the website Real Clear Politics.
Obama has been to Virginia 15 times since announcing his run for re-election in April 2011, and Romney has visited six times since announcing his candidacy in June 2011.
“The Obama campaign is doing in Virginia what they’re doing in other battleground states,” said Quentin Kidd, a political science professor at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. “They’re micro-targeting African Americans in Hampton Roads, and in particular African Americans in the military. They’re micro-targeting Latinos in northern Virginia, and they’re micro-targeting areas with a younger population like Richmond and Virginia Beach.”
Among the states, Virginia’s economy is the most dependent on federal defense spending through its contractors and military bases, collecting $56.9 billion in 2009, according to a Bloomberg Government study. It was followed by California and Texas.
General Dynamics Corp. (GD:US) and Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC:US) are based there; Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT:US), the world’s largest defense contractor, based in Bethesda, Maryland, employs approximately 7,700 people in Virginia, or 6 percent of its global workforce.
That has helped cushion the effects of the recession. Virginia’s unemployment rate was 5.6 percent in May, down from a high of 7.3 percent in January 2010. By comparison, the rate nationally was 8.2 percent and hit 10 percent in October 2009.
Still, Virginia was among four electoral battleground states that showed declining economic health in the first three months of the year, according to the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States. The index is based on the performance of local-company shares, tax collections, home prices, mortgage delinquencies, job growth and personal income.
Romney’s campaign criticized Obama over cuts in defense spending even before Obama arrived in the state. The Republican candidate released an open letter to Obama, accusing him of supporting budget cuts that would shutter factories and shipyards.
“Your insistence on slashing our military to pay the tab for your irresponsible spending could see over 200,000 troops forced from service,” Romney said in the statement. That “will overwhelm overburdened state offices like the Virginia Department of Veterans Services. It will impose suffering and hardship on so many military families.”
Obama repeated the populist themes he’s been using on the campaign trail, saying he is working to keep the promise of the American dream that “even if you weren’t born into wealth” people can provide a good home for their family and an education for their children.
He said the ideas being put forward by Romney and Republicans in Congress “basically involve taking the country backward,” including providing tax cuts to the wealthy, “even if it starts cutting into benefits that we’re providing to our veterans.”
Obama is calling on Congress to pass a yearlong extension of Bush-era tax cuts for families making less than $250,000 a year while letting rates rise for higher earners.
The message is intended to highlight his differences on economic policy with Romney, co-founder of Boston-based Bain Capital LLC. Obama has accused Romney and congressional Republicans of pursuing “top-down economics” that favor the wealthy. His campaign also is focusing on Romney’s work at Bain, a private equity firm, accusing him of profiting from the loss of jobs in the U.S. to overseas competitors.
Bain yesterday said Romney remained its sole stockholder and continued to be listed as the sole stockholder and in various executive positions in Securities and Exchange Commission filings even after leaving in 1999 to run the Winter Olympics. The company statement was released after a Boston Globe report raised questions about when the presumptive Republican presidential nominee left the firm.
The timing has become an issue because his campaign responded to reports of Bain-owned companies laying off employees by saying the former Massachusetts governor wasn’t responsible for actions after his departure.
Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, a longtime Virginia political strategist who is working on Democrat Wayne Powell’s House race against Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican, said the president’s populist message is working.
“Obama should stick with Bain Capital attacks,” he said. “Everybody in small-town Virginia feels like they’ve been taken advantage of.”
Vicki Johnson, a 57 year-old secretary who lives in Virginia Beach and attended the event at the high school, said that while she supports the president she’s not sure if he can win Virginia again.
When asked if she was at all disappointed in his first terms she said, “I wasn’t sure he was going to turn things around in four years anyway.”
Most of the places Obama is visiting voted for Democrat John Kerry in 2004 and came out in even bigger numbers for Obama in 2008. In Hampton Roads, where Obama will hold his second campaign event today, Obama beat Republican Senator John McCain 69 percent to 30 percent. Obama won Roanoke City 61 percent to McCain’s 38 percent, and he won Fairfax County, where he will go tomorrow, 60 percent to 39 percent. He will also go to Richmond, where he got 79 percent of the vote, and Glen Allen, outside of the capital.
Virginia Beach is the only one of the cities Obama is visiting that voted for McCain in 2008, giving him a narrow victory of 49.8 percent to Obama’s 49.1 percent.
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