Democrats lost the veterans vote by big margins in the last two presidential elections, but Obama campaign officials said Thursday they intend to reverse that trend by arguing that Mitt Romney would cut veterans’ benefits.
“It really seems like Romney just doesn’t care about our veterans community,” said Rob Diamond, the Obama campaign’s outreach director for veterans and military families, in a conference call with reporters.
He said the presumptive Republican nominee cut veterans services as governor of Massachusetts and supports a House GOP budget that would “slash” veterans funding by $11 billion.
“If Mitt Romney wins this election, those are the kinds of values we can expect,” Mr. Diamond said.
Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said the candidate has “a demonstrated record of strongly supporting our veterans.”
“The Obama campaign’s weak and misleading attacks are a desperate attempt to distract from President Obama’s failure to keep faith with those who have defended our freedom,” she said. “He is quadrupling health care premiums for military retirees, has quadrupled the number of veterans who have to wait months on end to receive their benefits, and created a jobs environment that has put a staggering 20.2 percent of our young returning veterans out of work.”
The campaign for the veteran vote is one that Democrats usually lose.
In 2008, Mr. Obama lost among veterans to Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam War hero, 55 percent to 45 percent. In 2004, Republican President George W. Bush outpolled Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, a Vietnam veteran, among vets 57 percent to 41 percent.
Mr. Diamond, a Navy veteran of the Iraq War, said Mr. Obama won vets under age 60 four years ago, and said the military demographic is changing in the Democrats’ favor. He said the effort to mobilize Obama supporters could have a decisive impact in battleground states with large military populations and bases, especially Virginia, Florida and North Carolina.
“That’s where these folks are, and that’s where we are engaging them,” he said.
The campaign is using Beau Biden, son of Vice President Joseph R. Biden, to promote the Democratic ticket. The younger Biden, attorney general of Delaware and a major in the Army National Guard, is the only family member in either campaign with military experience. Neither Mr. Obama, nor the vice president, or even Mr. Romney or his five sons, have served in the military.
“The president has been a strong and responsible leader in an often complicated and dangerous world,” Beau Biden said.
Republicans responded even before the Obama campaign launched its attack. Anthony Principi, secretary of veterans affairs under the second President Bush, and Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes said that the troops returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are struggling to find jobs and having to wait too long to receive disability claims as well as mental health services related to post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.
“There is absolutely no matrix, no calculation you could use, that would lead you to believe that Obama’s policies have not failed veterans and military families,” Mr. Forbes said.
The New York Times reported last month that 870,000 veterans are awaiting response to claims submitted to the Department of Veterans Affairs, a waiting list that has doubled since Mr. Obama took office. In addition to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, there are more than 200,000 claims filed by Vietnam vets seeking disability stemming from the spraying of the toxic defoliant Agent Orange.
Mr. Diamond said the Bush administration was guilty of “woeful underfunding” of the VA, and that Mr. Obama has been beefing up the agency’s personnel to whittle away the backlog.
“The VA claim backlog is not something that this administration created,” Mr. Diamond said.
He accused Mr. Romney of “saber rattling” in the campaign and said the GOP candidate is “hopelessly out of touch with reality” in his foreign and military policies.
Ms. Henneberg said Mr. Obama is “exploding the federal budget” and cutting “billions” from veterans’ health care.
“Gov. Romney believes we must devote to veterans the care and support they deserve, and as president he will do that,” she said.
• Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.