The original version of this story misstated the dollar total of defense and non-defense cuts contained in a deal negotiated by the White House and House Republicans last summer to rein in the national debt. The cuts totaled $100 billion, not $100 million. This version has been corrected.
VIRGINIA BEACH — Faced with criticism from his own party for his failure to mention the troops fighting in Afghanistan during his convention speech in Tampa, Mitt Romney turned his attention Saturday to the military, warning that President Obama would make drastic cuts to the armed forces in a second term.
Speaking at the Military Aviation Museum here, Romney, who at one point broke out into the Pledge of Allegiance, said he would “rebuild American’s military might” and restore proposed cuts to defense programs.
The $100 billion worth of defense and non-defense cuts were part of a deal reached by the White House and House Republicans last summer to force lawmakers to rein in the national debt.
Romney has pinned the blame on Obama, citing excerpts from a new book by Bob Woodward to support his view that the proposed cuts were the president’s idea.
“Our troops have been stretched to the breaking point in the conflicts they’ve been enduring, and our hearts go to those that are in far-off places today, particularly those in Afghanistan who are in harm’s way,” Romney said. “We love them, we respect them, we honor their sacrifice. But to preserve liberty, we must have a commitment not just to more ships and more aircraft, but also in my view to more members of our armed forces. I will not cut our military, I will maintain our military commitment.”
Romney, who was introduced by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, met briefly before he spoke with televangelist Pat Robertson, who attended the event.
Virginia is home to about 1 million service members, veterans and their families, and Romney and Obama have both courted the crucial voting bloc.
In two weeks, Virginia voters will be able to cast early ballots, and the Romney campaign plans to focus on the economy in making its case. At 5.9 percent, the state’s unemployment rate is well below the national average, yet Romney will continue to center his argument on the possibility of impending cuts to the defense industry.
Romney aides expect a tough fight over the Virginia’s 13 electoral votes — the former Massachusetts governor’s path to the White House is heavily dependent on this state.
“I think the key here is a lot of these middle-class voters that have been hit the hardest in the Obama economy,” said Kevin Madden, a senior Romney adviser. “The ones that have a job are very anxious about keeping it, particularly those that work in the defense industry in Virginia, where their jobs could be put in jeopardy and the whole regional economy could be put in jeopardy because of the sequestration cuts, the defense sequestration cuts, that were initiated by President Obama.”
Obama won Virginia in 2008, the first Democrat to do so since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, by performing well among African American voters (20 percent of the voting population) and among voters under the age of 65. McCain narrowly won this county over Obama in 2008.
Romney revved up the crowd by sounding popular conservative themes and invoking God.
“For me, the Pledge of Allegiance and placing our hand over our heart reminds us of the blood that was shed by our sons and daughters fighting for our liberty and sharing liberty with people around the world,” he said. “The promises that were made in that pledge are promises I plan on keeping if I’m president, and I’ve kept them so far in my life. The pledge says, ‘under God.’ I will not take God out of the name of our platform. I will not take God off our coins, and I will not take God out of my heart. We’re a nation that’s bestowed by God.”
On Saturday, Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC, released an ad in Virginia and five other swing states that looks at Romney’s tax plan and the impact it would have on middle-class families. An independent group found that the plan could cost the average family $2,000 more in taxes each year.