RENO, Nev. — President Obama, resuming a three-day swing up the West Coast after pausing to visit victims of the deadly shooting in Colorado, turned on Monday to military families as he announced a new effort to help service members transition back to civilian life.
Republican Mitt Romney returned to the campaign trail as well, calling once more for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act at a business roundtable in Costa Mesa — but refraining from harshly criticizing the president.
Both candidates have ordered a temporary pause in the most aggressive campaigning in Colorado following the shooting, keeping their most critical ads off the airwaves in Aurora, the town where a gunman killed 12 people and wounded 58 at a midnight movie screening early Friday.
But the campaigns began to return to normal on Monday. Obama released a new television ad called “The Choice” in which he criticized Romney’s plan to cut taxes for the wealthy. His campaign held a conference call with reporters attacking Romney’s upcoming trip to Europe.
The Romney campaign as well as the Republican National Committee ripped into Obama’s speech in Reno before the 113th national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars — a group that reaches a key voting bloc both campaigns are battling to win in November.
Obama has been courting service members, veterans and their families for months, touting his wind-down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, better job training and health benefits for veterans and the fact that al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden was killed on his watch.
He delivered a similar message Monday, but he added one nugget of news by announcing Transition GPS, an effort to improve an existing federal program that helps service members make the transition from military to private-sector life.
Starting this year, Obama said, the program will do a better job of helping people leaving the armed services gain job training, earn certifications and find jobs. It will be mandatory for all departing service members.
“If you want somebody who gets the job done, then hire a vet,” the president told a large crowd of veterans at Reno-Sparks Convention Center. “Hire a vet, and they will make you proud — just like they’ve made America proud.”
Romney is also seeking support from veteran and military families, significant populations in several key swing states including Virginia and Colorado. The former Massachusetts governor will address the VFW on Tuesday.
“I’m really undecided,” said Chanda Wieland, 42, an Army veteran and registered Republican from Pahrump, Nev., who is listening closely this week to what both candidates have to say about helping veterans. “Obama had a lot of information concerning the veterans. I can’t say I really support him or Romney.”
In Costa Mesa, Romney, who scooped up $10 million in two days of fundraising over the weekend, continued his outreach to business owners and seized on comments the president made about the help government provides to businesses.
“People who have spent their entire livelihood working in government, they sometimes don’t appreciate just how hard it is to start a business, grow a business, maintain a business, so that you can maintain employees and pay them better wages,” Romney said, speaking at Endural, which makes industrial containers. “Either they think business is an enemy or that business is getting a free ride and there’s a sense that somehow you’re the bad guys. I see you as the good guys.”
On military affairs, Romney has focused on Obama’s continuing drawdown in Afghanistan, which he said has been occurring too quickly.
Romney has also blamed the president for looming defense cuts that will take effect in January if a budget deal isn’t struck with Congress.
Obama anticipated that argument from his opponent when Romney goes before the VFW on Tuesday, urging the crowd Monday to hold Congress accountable for those looming cuts.
He did not, however, mention the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gays in the military that he repealed last year.
The president referenced the shooting in Colorado by paying tribute to four service members or veterans who died in that movie theater early Friday: Jesse Childress, 29, an Air Force reservist and cyber specialist, “the kind of guy, said a friend, who would help anybody”; John Larimer, 27, a petty officer 3rd class in the Navy and “an outstanding shipmate”; Rebecca Wingo, 32, an Air Force veteran who was fluent in Chinese and the mother of two little girls; and Jonathan Blunk, 26, from Reno, a veteran of three Navy tours whose family and friends, Obama said, “will always know that in that theater he gave his own life to save another.”
Although the president canceled one campaign rally in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, his three-day swing, combining a series of public and private events, will include stops in San Francisco, Oregon, Seattle and New Orleans. In San Francisco alone later Monday, he was expected to raise more than $3 million for the Obama Victory Fund, a joint committee benefiting the Obama reelection campaign, the Democratic National Committee and several state party committees.