Obama Vies for Key Votes With Romney Over Medicare, Defense Cuts

President Barack Obama stoked seniors’ fears about Medicare, wooed the Puerto Rican vote and cracked a birth-certificate joke, as challenger Mitt Romney focused on white working class voters with appeals to religion and the military.

The president’s first day of a two-day bus tour through Florida ended at a family-friendly sports bar in Florida, where he drank beer and jokingly asked a boy born in Hawaii like him whether he had the birth certificate to prove it -- a jab at the “birther” movement that questions Obama’s citizenship.

Romney closed a day of campaigning in Virginia last night with a visit to a Nascar race in Richmond, after a rally in Virginia Beach and a meeting with televangelist Pat Robertson. A storm forced Romney to cancel plans to kick off the race by shouting: “Drivers, start your engines.”

Today, they will appear in Sunday morning show interviews. Portions of an Obama interview with CBS will be shown on “Face the Nation.”

In an interview to be aired today on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Romney said Republicans in Congress made “a mistake” by going along with an agreement with Democrats to trigger automatic defense spending cuts in January if a budget deal isn’t reached. Romney has vowed to “get rid of” such cuts if elected.

Running Mate

Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, voted for the deal that included the cuts and praised them as “an important step in the right direction,” in a July 26, 2011, editorial for the National Review Online. Almost 14 percent of Virginia’s gross domestic product stems from defense spending, according to a November report by Bloomberg Government.

“I thought it was a mistake on the part of the White House to propose it,” Romney said in an excerpt of the interview provided by NBC. “I think it was a mistake for the Republicans to go along with it.”

On the trail yesterday, the presidential rivals took jabs at one another in two major battleground states.

“I will never turn Medicare into a voucher system,” Obama said in Seminole, Florida. Republicans’ idea of reform is “just dumping the cost on seniors.”

Social Security

Speaking to 11,000 supporters at St. Petersburg College’s Seminole campus, Obama pledged to “keep the promise of Social Security” and “not by turning it over to Wall Street.” Obama also said Romney’s call to repeal the health-care expansion known as “Obamacare” earns its own nickname: “Romneydon’tcare.”

Obama stopped for takeout Cuban sandwiches and photos with voters at a shop in West Tampa.

At the Kissimmee Civic Center, in Kissimmee, Florida, a city with a concentration of Puerto Ricans, Obama was introduced by a Puerto Rican-born woman, Vivian Janer, who said the president is committed to programs that help Hispanic Americans and women. Kissimmee’s population is 58.9 percent Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census.

The heavily Hispanic crowd of 3,000 responded so enthusiastically when Obama appeared that he joked, “I just want to say ‘thank you’ and leave the stage.”

Obama defended his economic stimulus, saying, “We’re expanding ports and infrastructure in Florida precisely because we can export more.” The crowd responded with a chant of “U-S-A.”

The two counties he visited are Pinellas and Osceola, which backed Obama in 2008 and Republican President George W. Bush in 2004.

Virginia Beach

Speaking to supporters in Virginia Beach, Romney attacked Democrats for cutting the word God from their party platform at their convention. Delegates later voted to restore a statement about the “God-given potential” of Americans.

“I will not take the word God out of the name of our platform,” he said in Virginia Beach. “I will not take God off our coins and I will not take God out of my heart.”

Romney’s trip through the state is designed to expand his advantage among white working class voters. Romney aides see support from this demographic, particularly working class men, as offsetting Obama’s advantage among black and Latino voters in swing states such as Ohio and Virginia.

While Romney, the Harvard-educated son of a former Michigan governor, leads in polls of working class voters, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum consistently performed better with white working class Republicans during his unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination last spring.

Defense Spending

At a rally at the Military Aviation Museum, Romney described the possible defense cuts as “unthinkable to Virginia’s employment needs.”

Almost 14 percent of Virginia’s gross domestic product stems from defense spending, according to a November report by Bloomberg Government.

“If I’m president of the United States we’ll get rid of those sequestration cuts and rebuild America’s might,” he said.

The automatic spending cuts totaling about $1.2 trillion through 2021 were part of a deal between the White House and Congress after talks failed last year on a bipartisan plan to curb the nation’s increasing debt.

Nascar Race

During a visit to the Daytona 500 earlier this year, Romney put himself more in the league of Nascar owners than fans, telling a reporter that he had “some great friends” who own teams. Democrats used the remark to paint him as wealthy and out of touch with average Americans. Romney amassed a $250 million fortune from his work as a private equity executive at Bain Capital LLC.

Romney got another chance to court the largely white audience of the sport yesterday when he attended the Sprint Cup Series Nascar race at the Richmond International Raceway.

As rain pounded down on the track, Romney shook hands, signed helmets, and handed out hot dogs in a tent sponsored by his campaign. Supporters wearing ponchos emblazoned with the slogan “race car drivers 4 freedom” handed tee-shirts for Romney to sign. And he posed for photos with drivers Jeff Burton and Paul Menard in front of a race car covered with a Romney campaign logo.

“There’s a lot of drivers I like,” he told reporters.

John Stanley, a Romney supporter attending his fifth race of the year, said Romney seemed at ease at the raceway.

“He seems like that kind of down to earth guy,” he said.

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