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Obama, Romney pitch to veterans in Virginia

By the CNN Political Unit
updated 10:07 PM EDT, Thu September 27, 2012
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, order food at a Wendy's restuarant in Richmond Heights, Ohio, on Tuesday. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, order food at a Wendy's restuarant in Richmond Heights, Ohio, on Tuesday.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Obama camp believes he has opening with veterans in Virginia this time
  • Romney says lower U.S. economic productivity a 'real challenge'
  • Paul Ryan says Obama economic policies cause uncertainty for business
  • George Soros committing $1 million to super PAC backing Obama's reelection bid

(CNN) -- Mitt Romney and Barack Obama courted veterans on Thursday in the battleground state of Virginia, appearing in communities that illustrate the state's heavy military presence and its reliance on defense spending for jobs.

For the second-straight day, the pair campaigned in the same battleground state. Obama stopped near Virginia Beach while Romney spoke at a rally in Springfield, just down the road from the Pentagon. The two were in Ohio on Wednesday.

Obama and Romney spent time in Virginia appealing to veterans and those connected with the defense industry as crucial voter groups in the state with 13 electoral votes that usually trends Republican but went for Obama last time. It currently gives Obama a narrow lead in polls.

Virginia weathered the overall economic downturn better than most other states, partly due to its strong military association and contracting links. But cities and towns are now nervous about uncertainty surrounding defense spending in an era of soaring deficits.

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Obama looks for veteran support in Virginia

Virginia would be hit hard if steep proposed budget cuts aimed at reducing federal red ink take hold next year absent a deal by Congress to forestall or soften them. The state could lose more than 130,000 jobs if a spending deal is not reached, according to an industry study by George Mason University in July.

Describing the cuts as a "gun-to-your-head" approach originally proposed by the White House and passed by Congress, the Republican nominee told a "Veterans for Romney" event that the impact on Virginia would be "devastating."

Review military spending

He also cautioned the world was too "dangerous" to chip away at U.S. military power.

"I want a military so strong, nobody wants to test it," Romney said, evoking the words that underpinned Ronald Reagan's defense buildup in the 1980s - "peace through strength."

Romney said he would review excess military spending to make the Defense Department more efficient and add 100,000 active duty service members. He also pledged to use the money saved in the defense budget to care for veterans.

Obama vs. Romney: How they'd handle the $7 trillion fiscal cliff

Obama appeared near Virginia Beach, home of the Naval Air Station Oceana. He lost the city by one point in 2008 largely due to the support for John McCain, a former Navy pilot, famed war prisoner, and staunch supporter of military issues in Congress.

But Obama campaign aides believe they have a larger opening this election with veterans in light of the president's more muscular than expected foreign policy and Romney's widely noted omission of service-member related issues in his convention address.

"If you stand with me, and work with me, we'll win the Tidewater again. We'll win Virginia again," Obama told an enthusiastic crowd at an outdoor pavilion.

Neither Romney nor Obama served in the military.

Obama contrasted his economic plan outlined in a campaign ad airing in key battleground states.

Romney, Obama said, "Doubled-down on trickle down," policies that "created the crisis in the first place."

Obama said his plan focuses on tax cuts for the middle class and "growing the economy from the middle out."

The president also sought more mileage from Romney's controversial comments, made in May but just surfacing last week, that nearly half of Americans who don't pay income tax view themselves as "victims."

"I travel around a lot in Virginia and across this country, I don't meet a lot of victims," the president said. "I see a whole bunch of veterans who have served this country with bravery and distinction. And I see soldiers who defend our freedom every single day," he said.

Romney hammers Obama over sluggish GDP numbers

Though, the weak economy is the top issue for most Americans.

In a surprise, revised economic data released on Thursday showed slower second-quarter growth than originally thought.

Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the nation's economic health, grew at an annual rate of 1.3% from April to June, the Commerce Department said, slower than the 1.7% rate last reported in August.

"This is a real challenge for us," Romney said. "And this is not just one quarter. This has been going on now for years."

Ryan shifting to economy

After spending time in Colorado yesterday, hammering away at the president on foreign policy, the Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, also shifted to the economy at a campaign fundraiser in Knoxville, Tennessee. Ryan said the president's economic policies cause uncertainty for businesses.

Virginia polls suggest race could be close

A string of recent polls suggest the president is maintaining a narrow lead over Romney and the Obama campaign is confident wins in both Ohio and Virginia will essentially foreclose any path Romney has to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

But it is very close. In two out of three recent polls, the margin of error, coupled with the percentage of undecided voters, leaves Virginia up for grabs.

The latest, a Suffolk University/WWBT-Richmond survey, shows Obama with a 46%-44% edge among likely voters in Virginia. Two point margin is within the poll's sampling error. Seven percent are undecided.

Obama's 2008 victory made Virginia -- historically a Republican stronghold -- a battleground. No Democratic presidential candidate had won the state since Lyndon Johnson's landslide in 1964.

Fresh polls give Obama the advantage in four crucial battlegrounds

Voters in Iowa had their first chance to cast ballots in the presidential election Thursday, marking the first battleground state to begin in-person early voting. Idaho, South Dakota, New Jersey, Vermont and Maine all began in-person early voting earlier this month.

Big Soros donation

Separately, Democratic fundraisers got a boost with news that billionaire financier George Soros would commit $1 million to a super PAC backing Obama's reelection bid, Priorities USA Action. In May, Soros donated $1 million to the left-leaning super PAC American Bridge.

Priorities fundraising has lagged independent Republican groups like American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS, Restore Our Future, and Americans for Prosperity, which support Romney's campaign.

Romney and Obama square off in their first debate October 3 in Denver.

CNN's Kevin Liptak, Ashley Killough, Rachel Streitfeld, Peter Hamby, Mike Mount and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

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