HAMPTON, Va. — President Obama began a two-day swing through Virginia Friday with stops across this geographically diverse state that charted the same course to victory he plotted in this state in 2008: through military installations, minority-heavy communities and the smaller Democratic enclaves of the rural west.
Obama’s movements were tracked closely by the campaign of his opponent, presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney, — a testament to how intensely the two candidates plan to contest Virginia this year. Romney’s campaign bus circled Obama’s events on Friday, and Republican governors meeting in Williamsburg held a news conference to draw attention from the president’s barnstorming tour. Although Obama won Virginia with a six-point margin in 2008, his fortunes this year are less certain.
Obama’s speeches were rich with references to what he’s done to try to turn around the economy and how his policies have helped service members, veterans and their families.
“There are a lot of folks in Virginia who have served us in uniform with such bravery and dedication and patriotism,” Obama said at Green Run High School in Virginia Beach, where 2,300 people filled a gymnasium and overflow cafeteria to hear the president speak. “I want us to keep faith with our troops, and make sure that our veterans get the benefits that they have earned.”
Romney made clear he has no plans to cede the military vote to Obama, however. Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker spoke in Williamsburg together to blame Obama for looming cuts due to hit the Pentagon next year if lawmakers and the White House don’t reach a deal to reduce the national debt.
Virginia is home to more than 900,000 defense-related jobs; according to state officials, it could lose more than 122,000 of those jobs as a result of the looming cuts. Virginia also ranks first in the nation in spending on federal contracting; in Northern Virginia, state officials estimate that about 93,000 jobs and $8 billion in economic activity could be lost over 10 years.
Obama didn’t talk about the defense cuts, known as “sequestration” on Capitol Hill — though the White House and Obama’s campaign both pushed back against the idea that those cuts are solely his responsibility. “I would remind you that the sequester was something that was actually passed with the strong support of Republicans, in both the House and the Senate,” Josh Earnest, deputy White House press secretary, told reporters aboard Air Force One en route from Washington to Virginia Beach. “And the reason for this is that it’s an action-forcing mechanism to force Congress to confront the difficult budget challenges.”
Obama did talk about his demand that Congress extend George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class, which House Republicans say they won’t do unless tax cuts are also extended for the wealthiest 2 percent.
“If we’re going to bring down our deficit in a sensible way that grows the economy and grows our middle class, it can’t be based simply on cuts to basic programs and asking nothing from those who have been the most fortunate in this society,” Obama said. “So what I’ve said is we’ll make cuts, but we’re also going to ask the wealthiest Americans like me to do a little bit more. And I promise you, we can afford it.”
Obama also demonstrated his enormous popularity among African Americans. Motorcading through minority-heavy neighborhoods in Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Hampton, the president traveled boulevards lined with supporters who jumped and cheered and waved signs as he passed. One woman came out of a beauty parlor, her hair still in curlers, when Obama made an unscheduled stop at Rick’s Cafe in Virginia Beach. A teenaged girl fainted during his speech at Green Run High School in Virginia Beach. And at Phoebus High School in Hampton, Obama couldn’t finish a sentence without being interrupted by exuberant cheers and ‘Amens’ from the audience.
“We got your back, Obama!” one woman screamed as he finished his speech in Hampton.