A memorable exchange over sea power in Monday night’s presidential debate is already reverberating in Virginia’s hard-fought U.S. Senate race.
President Obama’s “horses and bayonets” comment — part of his broader rebuttal against Mitt Romney’s (R) statement that the United States has fewer ships than it did in 1916 — drew particular notice in the commonwealth, which is home to the world’s largest naval base, Naval Station Norfolk, as well as the massive Newport News shipyards.
George Allen (R), who is running against fellow former governor Timothy M. Kaine (D) in the race to succeed retiring Sen. James Webb (D), was quick on the draw Tuesday with a release titled: “A Shrinking Military Is Not A Joke.”
Allen has called before for increased production of ships and submarines, but in Tuesday’s statement he did not mention that, instead seeking to link Obama’s comment to the fight over looming “sequestration” cuts to the defense budget.
“President Obama’s disregard for the seriousness of these devastating sequestration cuts and the potential loss of 200,000 Virginia jobs show just how out of touch this administration is,” said George Allen. “Because of Washington’s inability to set priorities, these enormous cuts will harm our military modernization, readiness and Virginia jobs. While President Obama might take this lightly, these jobs support our communities, neighbors, and friends and keep our families safe.”
Allen and Kaine have sparred repeatedly over defense issues. Allen has attacked Kaine for backing (as did most Republican leaders) the original spending deal that put defense cuts on the table, while Kaine has accused Allen of lacking a realistic plan to avert the cuts and reduce the budget deficit.
Without either praising or criticizing Obama’s remarks, Kaine said in his own statement that he would “work with both parties to continue strategic investments” in the military.
“I was proud to work with the White House and the Virginia congressional delegation to make sure we canceled a threatened carrier move from Virginia to Florida,” Kaine said. “I also communicated significantly with the administration about the need to maintain an 11 carrier naval fleet. Both of these efforts are good for our nation’s defense and good for Virginia jobs, including those of the hundreds of shipyard employees I’ve met with in the past week.”
Kaine, who has met with shipyard employees twice in the last five days, also said “modernization and technological advancements are important,” echoing the broader point Obama made Monday night that ”the nature of our military’s changed” with the advent of aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines.
Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) also jumped on Obama’s comments Monday night.
“Unfortunately, President Obama’s dismissive comments about the Navy tonight should be concerning for any voter who cares about the safety and security of Americans at home and abroad,” McDonnell said in a statement issued by the Romney campaign. “President Obama has not only ignored these concerns — but his flippant comment about ‘horses and bayonets’ was an insult to every sailor who has put his or her life on the line for our country.”