President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney delivered dueling speeches in Virginia on Friday, with the president attacking his rival on women’s health issues and the GOP nominee focusing on energy policy.
Obama used his appearance at George Mason University in Fairfax to hail the news that the economy added 114,000 jobs in September and the jobless rate had fallen to 7.8 percent, the lowest since the president took office.
And as he did Thursday on the campaign trail, Obama again mocked Romney’s comment, during their debate Wednesday in Denver, that he would eliminate federal funding to PBS even though he likes Big Bird, as a way to help curb the deficit.
“Governor Romney plans to let Wall Street run wild again, but he’s going to bring down the hammer on ‘Sesame Street,’” Obama joked. “It makes perfect sense.”
Romney swooped into Southwest Virginia’s coal country to rail against Obama’s energy policies, saying the White House has stood in the way of coal development. After meeting privately with miners who were recently laid off, Romney told more than 3,000 supporters in Abingdon, Va., that the country could create up to 4 million jobs if it gets serious about developing energy.
“I know right now you’re thinking about one job: your job,” Romney said. “I’m thinking of your job as well, person by person. Every American deserves a good job. People are hard-working right here in this community. I want to make sure your jobs stay here, grow here and provide a bright future for you and for your family.”
The candidates’ appearances in Virginia on the same day underscored the importance of the swing state’s 13 electoral votes in the election. Though polls have shown Obama holding a lead, Romney is hoping his strong debate performance this week will help buoy his chances.
In his speech, the president lit into Romney on women’s health issues, an area where the Obama campaign believes it has gained a significant advantage. Polls show the president with a healthy lead among women voters nationally, an edge that has helped boost him to a lead in swing states, including Virginia, where Obama leads Romney by 19 points among women.
Obama warned that Romney’s health-care policies would return women to the 1950s by limiting their ability to access contraception, get an abortion and purchase insurance that covers breast cancer.
In Virginia, state GOP lawmakers gained national attention this year after proposing legislation that would have required that most women seeking an abortion undergo a transvaginal ultrasound, a concept lampooned by liberal TV commentators and even “Saturday Night Live.” Amid the uproar, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell had the bill amended to specify a less invasive method, but Democrats have continued to try to capitalize politically on the controversy.
“The decisions that affect a woman’s health are not up to politicians, they’re not up to insurance companies, they’re up to you,” Obama said. “You deserve a president who will fight to keep it that way.”
Later Friday, Obama pressed his critique of Romney’s debate performance to a crowd of 9,000 poncho-clad students and enthusiastic supporters in a driving rain at Cleveland State University. He also stopped at a local market to pick up some pumpkin and zucchini breads and beef jerky.
Enormous letters erected above bleachers on the football field where Obama spoke spelled out “V-O-T-E E-A-R-L-Y.”
“Before I begin, Ohio, I have just one question.” Obama opened his remarks. “Are you registered to vote?”
Philip Rucker contributed to this report.