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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Buoyant Obama Courts Military Votes in Virginia


VIRGINIA BEACH - Appearing just a few miles from the shipyard where Mitt Romney announced last month that Representative Paul D. Ryan would be his running mate, President Obama on Thursday was fighting hard to make a dent in the Republican Party's traditional stranglehold on military votes.

Virginia Beach and Norfolk are crucial to both campaigns' hopes of winning Virginia, where the race is widely viewed as one of the closest in the remaining swing states, and one that both camps desperately want to win.

“I still believe in you!” Mr. Obama yelled out to the sea of white, brown and black faces before him. “If you stand with me and work with me, we'll win the Tidewater again. We'll win Virgin ia again.”

Just six days before the first debate, both candidates were in Virginia. Mr. Romney campaigned at a veterans' event in the Washington suburb of Springfield, where he, too, played to the military, promising to stop “devastating job losses” to veterans if he is elected. Mr. Romney also vowed to build a military that is “so strong that no one wants to test it.”

The state has 13 electoral votes, but pathways to victory for either man get far steeper if Virginia is taken out of the column. This is especially the case for Mr. Romney, now that polls show him trailing Mr. Obama in Ohio and Florida.

And yet, with each day that moves the president closer to Election Day - and perhaps because of the recent polling in Ohio and Florida - he has appeared more relaxed, almost as if he is starting to enjoy himself. Surrounded by 7,000 screaming supporters - a crowd as diverse as the Tidewater region, with its naval base an d countless veterans - Mr. Obama seemed determined to hang on to his small but steady lead in the state polls.

“How's it going, Virginia Beach?” the president shouted. He quickly attached himself to Senator Jim Webb, the Virginia Democrat and former Marine who had introduced him in a lengthy windup that trumpeted the president's support for military families. “I could not be prouder,” Mr. Obama said, “of a man who has served his country his entire life, as a Marine, as a secretary of the Navy.”

The crowd was eating it up, primed beforehand by the cast of colorful characters that make up Virginia Democratic politics. Representative Robert C. Scott, with his thick Southern accent, seemed a particular favorite. He got roars when he recounted how in 2008 CNN called Virginia for Mr. Obama for the first Democratic presidential victory here in 40 years, and then “two minutes later” called the election for Mr. Obama, a story meant to demonstrate how centr al winning the state has become to presidential aspirations.

Of course, winning the people at this rally looked pretty easy. Attendees were so pumped up that there was almost a stampede when organizers handed out the Obama campaign's “Forward” signs.

As is becoming the norm before the president enters a rally, the crowd took over as Al Green's “Let's Stay Together” came on, belting out the lyrics like the president did at the Apollo Theater. By the time Mr. Webb came out to introduce the president, the din at Farm Bureau Live - an outdoor concert amphitheater - sounded like a Bruce Springsteen concert.

The Obama campaign also released a two-minute television ad on Thursday, in which Mr. Obama pitches an economic plan that he says will create one million manufacturing jobs, cut oil imports and increase education jobs.

Mr. Obama characterized the plan as a “new economic patriotism.” Speaking in Virginia Beach, he said: “During campaign sea son, we always hear a lot about patriotism. Well, you know what? It's time for a little economic patriotism.”

The ad will be shown in seven swing states: Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire. And with each poll that shows Mr. Obama ahead in Florida and Ohio and clinging to his narrow lead in Virginia, the president and his aides have seemed a little more buoyant - to the point that the campaign spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, cautioned that “if we need to pass out horse blinders to all of our staff, we will do that.”