Obama, Romney move battle to Virginia for military votes

President fights to hold a state he won in 2008

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If the Mitt Romney signs speckling neighborhoods around the outdoor amphitheater near Naval Air Station Oceana where Mr. Obama spoke are any indication, the Democrat still has some convincing to do when it comes to military voters here, headquarters of SEAL Team 6, the elite unit that led the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound inside Pakistan.

Mr. Romney has spent plenty of time along the Norfolk waterfront, where he chose to announce his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, last month with a battleship as the backdrop, and visited just last week advocating for an increase in fighter production.

During his remarks Thursday, Mr. Romney reminded voters that defense sequestration was Mr. Obama’s idea, calling it “a kind of gun-to-your-head opportunity.”

“It is still a troubled and dangerous world, and the idea of cutting our military commitment by $1 trillion over this decade is unthinkable and devastating,” he said. “And when I become president of the United States, we will stop it.”

Mr. Obama avoided talking about military spending, except to say he would take the money the country is spending on Iraq and Afghanistan and shift it over to creating infrastructure jobs, rolling out a new campaign theme, promising “a new economic patriotism that growing our economy begins with growing a strong middle class.”

He turned instead to an attractive advocate for his re-election and an appropriate messenger for the audience: Retiring Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, a highly decorated Vietnam combat veteran, Marine and a former secretary of the Navy.

Acknowledging that, at times, he and Mr. Obama disagreed probably “once a week,” Mr. Webb, an independent-minded Democrat and author of the updated GI Bill, gave an impassioned endorsement of the president’s re-election bid.

Mr. Webb said voters are “fed up with unnecessary military ventures” in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We’ve got a busted economy. They want to know that their education will lead to a decent job that their retirement years will be protected, that their children and grandchildren will live in the most prosperous nation in the world,” he said. “If you want those guarantees, my advice to you is you better be voting for Barack Obama.”

Writing off Mr. Romney as someone “whose view on foreign policy seems awkward and uniformed,” he also accused the Republican challenger of failing to understand that “many on government assistance today want to live the American dream just as much as those who already have it.”

Veterans, he said, who receive benefits “are not takers.”

“They are givers in the ultimate sense of the word.”

Susan Crabtree reported from Virginia Beach, and Seth McLaughlin reported from Springfield.

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