President Barack Obama cast himself Friday as a tax-cutting friend of the middle class, portraying the Republicans as defenders of the wealthy and hoping the pitch would help him win for a second time in the once solidly conservative state of Virginia.
He stressed the tax cuts he’s already pushed through, ridiculed anyone who denies it, and argued for his new proposal to extend expiring Bush-era tax cuts for incomes below $250,000.
“I have cut taxes for middle-class families by an average of $3,900 since I’ve been in office,” he said to applause in Virginia Beach.
“So just in case some of your friends or neighbors, or Uncle Jim, who’s a little stubborn and been watching FOX News and he thinks that somehow I raised taxes, let’s just be clear: We’ve lowered taxes for middle-class families since I came into office,” he said.
Met by boisterous crowds, Obama said he’ll need the same enthusiasm that in 2008 made him the first Democratic presidential nominee to capture Virginia since President Lyndon Johnson won it in 1964.
"This is going to be a close one,” Obama told a cheering crowd at Green Run High School in Virginia Beach. “We’re going to have to work hard. When we win Virginia, we’re going to have won the election."
Obama ridiculed Republicans for voting in the House of Representatives this week to repeal his 2010 health-insurance law, their 33rd vote to repeal or curb the landmark law, all of which died in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Instead, he said, the House should vote a single time on his proposal to extend Bush-era tax cuts beyond this year for incomes below $250,000 a year.
He noted that his proposal would extend for one year the tax cuts for 98 percent of taxpayers, while the Republicans refuse to agree to an extension unless it covers the tax cuts for all incomes.
“The holdup is we’ve got a disagreement on the top 2 percent,” he said. “The top 2 percent, folks like me, we don’t need a tax break. . . . We already benefitted from most of the tax cuts over the last decade, so we don’t need it, we’re least likely to spend it. It’s least likely to give a boost to the economy. We can’t afford it because we’re trying to bring down our deficit and trying to control our debt.”
As he spoke, a new McClatchy-Marist poll Friday found a majority of Americans, including big majorities of Obama supporters such as young voters, Latinos and lower income workers, prefer the Republican proposal to extend the Bush tax cuts for all incomes, including those above $250,000.
In the battle for Virginia, Romney fired back in an “open letter” to the president focusing on threatened cuts in the defense budget.
“Unfortunately, the defense cuts you signed into law will hit Virginians hard,” Romney wrote in the letter published in the Virginian-Pilot newspaper.
“Your insistence on slashing our military to pay the tab for your irresponsible spending could see over 200,000 troops forced from service,” he wrote. “It will shut the doors on factories and shipyards that support our war fighters, take a heavy toll on the guard and reserves, and potentially shutter Virginia military bases.”
Obama countered with a personal pitch to military families.
Before his Virginia Beach rally, Obama sat at a table at Rick’s Cafe outside Oceana Naval Air Station and talked with three military wives.
“I love the fact that this administration is focused on military families,” said Jennifer Farlin, a home sale stager in nearby Chesapeake whose husband, a Navy commander, is deployed overseas. “Prior to this, we felt lost.”
The Tidewater region of Virginia has large numbers of active-duty and retired military members along with employees of defense contractors, many of whom lean Republican. At the same time, almost one-third of the residents of Virginia Beach and Hampton are blacks, whose record turnout in 2008 helped Obama win the state.
Patricia Stewart, a retired pharmacy technician from Virginia Beach, said that kind of rhetoric is all she’s been hearing from Republicans for more than three years. She said Obama “inherited a lot of mess” but has tried his best to help middle-class, poor and other Americans in the face of relentless opposition from GOP lawmakers.
“Anything he says, the Republicans are against it,” she said. “If he says, ‘I want a glass of milk,’ they say, ‘You can’t have it.’ They’ve wanted him to fail from day one because they don’t want him back in the White House.”
Obama leads Romney by a composite 3 percentage points in Virginia, according to the average of the five most recent polls in the state as compiled by realclearpolitics.com.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., drew roars when he reminded the crowd that Virginia helped put Obama over the top in 2008.
“My fellow Virginians, the eyes of the nation are going to be on us again,” Warner said. “Which direction Virginia goes is which direction the nation goes.”