VIRGINIA BEACH – President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney shadowed each other for a second consecutive day in a battleground state, appealing for votes by arguing the other is pushing failed policies.
Taxes, energy independence, education, jobs and debt were the main issues that both candidates hit Thursday in Virginia, one of about 10 states that their campaigns say will swing the Nov. 6 election.
In an appearance before military veterans in Springfield, a suburb of Washington, Romney said the struggling economy is weakening the country and criticized Obama over automatic budget cuts — including to defense — set to take effect in January.
The "idea of cutting our military commitment by a trillion dollars over this decade is unthinkable and devastating," Romney said at an American Legion Post. "When I become president of the United States, we will stop it. I will not cut our commitment to our military."
Obama said his challenger represents a return to the policies of his predecessor, former President George W. Bush. "We just tried this, he said at rally at Farm Bureau Live, an amphitheater in Virginia Beach. "It didn't work then."
Thursday's events in Virginia, which Obama won in 2008, followed multiple stops by both candidates Wednesday in Ohio, another battleground, where they accused each other of being too weak to confront China on trade and lacking plans to create jobs.
In six days, Obama and Romney meet in Denver for the first of three debates. By the time of their third session on Oct. 22, early voting will already be underway in six of the nine top battleground states, adding a new urgency to the campaigning.
Romney repeated his criticism of the automatic cuts to federal spending starting in January 2013 that Obama and Republican congressional leaders agreed to last year as part of a battle over the U.S. debt.
Those cuts include defense spending reductions of $500 billion, and have been criticized as a risk to national security by Republicans and Democrats alike. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said the cuts would be a "disaster."
Romney said the automatic cuts were proposed by the White House and created a "kind of a gun to your head" arrangement for federal spending. The proposed military cuts would mean 136,000 lost jobs in Virginia, he said.
"The world is not a safe place," he said. "It remains dangerous."
Obama focused his attacks on Romney's tax proposals, saying the Republican plan would cut taxes for the wealthiest at the expense of programs that aid middle-income.
"The question is who's plan is better for you," Obama said.
Obama added a new line to his standard campaign speech that is part of a new broadcast advertisement by his campaign and aimed at promoting his push to raise taxes for the wealthiest Americans.
"During campaign season, you always hear a lot about patriotism," Obama said. "Well, you know what? It's time for a new economic patriotism" that promotes a "thriving middle class."
With national unemployment stuck at or above 8 percent since February 2009, Romney has been trying to gain traction with a message that Obama's policies have failed to reignite the economy following the worst recession in more than seven decades.
In another sign that the economy is struggling to gain momentum, demand for durable goods other than transportation equipment unexpectedly dropped 1.6 percent in August, the third consecutive monthly decline. That suggests slowdowns in business investment and exports will further hold back the recovery.
Other data from the Commerce Department showed the economy expanded at a 1.3 percent annual rate in the second quarter, less than the 1.7 percent previous estimated.
Still, Obama could point to some positive data.
First-time claims for jobless benefits decreased more than forecast last week, falling 26,000 to 359,000, according to Labor Department figures released today. Claims have been on the rise since July and the turnaround indicates U.S. companies may be growing more confident that sales will pick up.
Like Ohio, Virginia is one of the hardest fought battlegrounds. Three television markets that include Virginia — Washington, D.C., Norfolk and Richmond — were among the 15 markets that ran the most presidential campaign ads in the seven-day period ended Sept. 24, according to Kantar Media's CMAG, which tracks advertising. Obama, Romney and their allies supplied 5,627 ads in those three markets during the week.
The Norfolk television market, which includes Virginia Beach, was 11th in the nation in the volume of presidential campaign commercials during the week.
Obama four years ago was the first Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 to win the state's presidential vote.
A Washington Post poll conducted Sept. 12-16 showed Obama leading Romney 52 percent to 44 percent among likely voters in Virginia. A CBS News/New York Times/Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters in the state conducted Sept. 11-17 showed Obama leading Romney 50 percent to 46 percent.
Virginia avoided the worst of the recession. The state has been sustained by federal government contracts, particularly military procurement. Unemployment in Virginia never rose above 7.3 percent and had dropped to 5.9 percent in August.
The Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News metropolitan area is home to the world's largest U.S. Navy base and private shipyards including those operated by Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair Inc., and General Dynamics Corp.