* Obama evokes 'economic patriotism' in bid for middle class
* Home to the Pentagon, Virginia is a key swing state
* Possible defense spending cuts loom large in the state
By Jeff Mason and Sam Youngman
VIRGINIA BEACH/SPRINGFIELD, Va., Sept 27 (Reuters) -
P resident Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney battled
to capture the military vote in Virginia on Thursday as they
tried to squeeze out an advantage in one of the most tightly
contested swing states ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
Speaking in the military town of Virginia Beach, Obama
called for a new "economic patriotism" to help middle-income
voters whose support his campaign is targeting.
Romney spoke at an American Legion hall a few miles from the
Pentagon and blamed Obama for $1.2 trillion in potential defense
cuts that could bring heavy job losses to the Virginia suburbs
of Washington, where the Democrat is popular.
The Pentagon is home to the nation's military command.
Obama's economic patriotism focus was a new angle in his
campaign stump speech and was likely aimed at the state's large
population of veterans. The message linked to Obama's theme that
he - and not Romney - is promoting tax policies and social
programs that support the middle class.
"During campaign season you always hear a lot about
patriotism. Well, you know what? It's time for a new economic
patriotism. An economic patriotism rooted in the belief that
growing our economy begins with a strong and thriving middle
class," Obama told a crowd of some 7,000 in Virginia Beach.
Veterans also featured in a new Obama campaign ad released
on Thursday that played Romney's voice from his "47 percent"
video over images of working Americans, ex-military members and
a young family in a poor, rural setting. No other voices appear
in the ad.
Romney describes 47 percent of the electorate in the
secretly recorded video as "victims" reliant on federal aid.
Polls show the clip has damaged voters' perception of
Romney, though most people will still decide who to vote for
based on economic issues. Nationally, Obama is ahead of Romney
by 49-42 percent, according a Reuters/Ipsos daily online poll.
As in several other swing states, Obama has opened up a
slight lead in the polls in Virginia, which he won in the 2008
election to become the first Democratic presidential candidate
to take the state in decades.
BLAME FOR DEFENSE CUTS
Bringing the fight to the suburbs of Washington where Obama
is well-liked, Romney blamed the incumbent for potential defense
cuts that could kick in early next year.
Known as "sequestration," the mandatory cuts in defense and
other government spending were agreed upon by the White House
and Republicans in Congress last year in a deal to raise the
U.S. debt ceiling.
"It's a strange proposal in the first place. It's even
stranger that it's being put in place," Romney told a crowd at
the American Legion in Springfield, Virginia.
The obligatory cuts are due to begin in January if the two
parties in Congress cannot agree on budget savings.
"How in the world as commander-in-chief you can stand by as
we shrink our military commitment financially is something I
don't understand, and I will reverse it," Romney said.
Congressional Republicans, including vice presidential
running mate Paul Ryan, approved the sequestration deal but
Romney hopes to use it as evidence that Obama is weak on
national security and uncaring about job losses.
Romney also took shots at Obama over second-quarter gross
domestic product numbers that were revised downward on Thursday.
The Republican compared Russia's growth to that of the
United States, which saw 1.3 percent growth in the second
quarter, and said it was evidence the economy is a national
"1.3 percent versus Russia at 4 percent. China at 7 to 8
percent," Romney said. "We're at 1.3 percent. This is
unacceptable. It is not working," he said in Springfield.
"This is the result of policies that have not reignited our
economy," Romney said Thursday evening at a fundraiser in
Washington. "I think by the end of a second Barack Obama term
you'd be roughly $20 trillion in debt. ... This has been a
presidency that has not worked."
"The entire world is watching what's happening here and
wondering which way we're gonna go. Whether we're going to get
serious about our challenges or just kick them down the road,"
Romney told supporters.
Obama's campaign released a two-minute television
advertisement featuring the president talking directly to the
camera about his record and his plans for a second term.
"When I took office, we were losing nearly eight hundred
thousand jobs a month, and were mired in Iraq," Obama says in
the ad. "Today, I believe that as a nation we are moving forward
again. But we have much more to do to get folks back to work and
make the middle class secure again."
In a reminder of how soon Election Day is, early voting in
person began in swing state Iowa.