VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — President Obama played to an enthusiastic crowd in the military stronghold of Virginia Beach Thursday, promising to bring about a “new economic patriotism” and hailing veterans and military families as valued members of the middle class.
Alluding to GOP rival Mitt Romney’s secretly recorded quotes from a spring fundraiser describing 47 percent of country as dependent on the government and paying no taxes, Mr. Obama appeared to build on a Democratic point that combat veterans overseas also don’t pay taxes and thus would be part of the Republican’s 47 percent.
“I don’t think we can get very far with leaders who write off half the nation as victims,” he said. “I don’t see victims [in Virginia Beach]. I see all kinds of military veterans who served their country and those military families who love their loved ones when they come back home safe and sound. … That’s what I see.”
At the mention of military families, one woman shouted exuberantly shouted: “Right here!”
The visit to the tidewater area of Virginia was a homecoming of sorts for Mr. Obama who captured the Democratic-leaning cities along the harbor — Hampton, Newport News and Portsmouth in 2008 with margins exceeding 60 percent. He also split the Republican-leaning cities of Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, winning the former and barely losing Virginia Beach, home to the world’ largest Navy base, as well as Air Force, Marine and Army bases.
Even though troops and veterans are considered a reliable part of the Republican base, Mr. Obama is aggressively pursuing the veterans’ vote to help him keep the crucial swing state of Virginia in his camp in November, and an average of recent polls on realclearpolitics.com gives him a 4.5 point advantage in the state.
Still, with so many people connected to the defense industry or economically reliant on it, military cuts are a big concern in Hampton Roads, as the region braces for hundreds of billions of dollars in automatic Pentagon spending cuts if Congress cannot break the budget impasse by the end of the year.
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 in the area.
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.
In Springfield, Mr. Romney pointed to a new Bureau of Economic Analysis report revising down the nation’s economic growth during the spring 1.3 percent annual rate, down from its previous estimate of 1.7 percent.
Mr. Obama didn’t comment on the even weaker revised number, instead rolling out a new campaign theme, promising “a new economic patriotism that growing our economy begins with growing a strong middle class.”
The Romney campaign quickly pointed out the omission out after the president’s remarks, noting that even Russia’s economy is growing at about 4 percent.
Mr. Obama on Thursday steered clear of any mention of the revised economic report or pending defense cuts, turning instead to an attractive advocate for his re-election and an appropriate messenger for the audience: retiring Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, a highly decorated Vietnam combat veteran 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.