President Barack Obama. (Photo credit SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)
By David Jackson, USA TODAY
VIRGINIA BEACH -- As Mitt Romney and aides attacked President Obama over gloomy new economic statistics, Obama touted a new campaign theme Thursday: a "new economic patriotism" emphasizing the middle class.
"During campaign season, you always hear a lot about patriotism," Obama said at an outdoor amphitheater near the Virginia coast. "Well, you know what, it's time for a new economic patriotism -- and economic patriotism rooted in the belief that growing our economy begins with a strong and thriving middle class."
The term is the theme of a new Obama ad airing in battleground states, including Virginia.
Aides to Romney -- who also campaigned in the swing state of Virginia on Thursday -- challenged Obama's conduct of the economy by citing a new government report saying the economy grew by only 1.3% in the second quarter of this year.
"Our economy needs to be reinvigorated," Romney said in Springfield, Va. "And the president has laid out his plan -- it's a continuation of the old plan. We can't afford four more years of the last four years."
Both campaigns are making a big target of Virginia, which went Republican in 10 straight presidential elections -- until 2008, when Obama became the first Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 to win the commonwealth.
As he has throughout his re-election campaign, Obama told about 7,000 people in Virginia Beach that he inherited an economy that had collapsed before he took office. He said it will "take a few more years" to recover from the economic meltdown, but his policies -- including the stimulus, the health care law and new financial regulations -- are having a positive effect.
"We're not where we need to be, not yet," Obama said. "We've got a lot more folks who have to get back to work. We've got a lot more work to do, to make the middle class secure again. But the question is, whose plan is better for you?"
The president said Romney's plans -- more tax cuts for the wealthy, fewer regulations on business -- will return the economy to the conditions that preceded the 2008 meltdown. "It didn't work then, and it won't work now," Obama said of Romney's "top-down economics."
As Romney, speaking at an American Legion post in Springfield, bashed Obama over possible military cuts, Obama appealed to veterans in this military-oriented state -- and took a swipe at Romney's statement that the president starts out with 47% of the vote because of people who either receive government benefits or pay no taxes. Many military voters are retirees who receive Social Security and don't necessarily pay income tax.
"I don't think we can get very far with leaders who write off half the nation as a bunch of victims who never take responsibility for their own lives," Obama said.
Saying "I don't meet a lot of victims," Obama cited a list that included veterans who "served this country with bravery and distinction."
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said 1.3% growth and unemployment above 8% are proof that "the Obama economy is officially stuck in neutral. ... It's clear our nation's job creators and manufacturers can't afford another four years like the last four years."