SPRINGFIELD, Va. -- Republican Mitt Romney sought to prove his mettle as a potential commander in chief in front of Northern Virginia veterans Thursday while President Obama cast doubt on Romney's military credentials downstate in Hampton Roads.
Thursday was the third straight day in which the candidates held dueling events in the same swing state, this time in Virginia, where 71,347 absentee ballots were sent out last week and voting is already under way six weeks before Election Day.
The battle is clearly focused on the economy, and both candidates laid out fiscal blueprints aimed squarely at middle-class voters. But both Romney and Obama also made direct appeals to the state's 822,000 veterans and those who rely on the Pentagon for a living.
Romney chastised Obama for agreeing to a deficit reduction deal that threatens to cut military spending by $500 billion because Congress failed to come up with a better plan. Romney called the deal a "gun-to-your head" proposal and promised to reverse Obama's call to reduce troop levels by adding 100,000 active-duty personnel.
(View more photos from Romney's Springfield event)
"The impact will be immediate and significant right here in Virginia," Romney told about 200 people at the Springfield American Legion Post. "How in the world as commander in chief you can stand by as we shrink our military commitment financially? I don't understand and I will reverse it."
Obama avoided talk of those cuts at a rally in Virginia Beach and instead criticized Romney for vowing to "spend $2 trillion more on military spending that our military hasn't asked for" without providing a plan to fund the increase.
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., a decorated Vietnam War veteran, appeared with Obama and criticized Romney for failing to mention veterans or the military in his speech at the Republican National Convention. Webb also alluded to Romney avoiding service in Vietnam by doing missionary work for the Mormon church.
"People made choices about how to deal with the draft, and about military service," Webb said. "I have never envied or resented any of the choices that were made as long as they were done within the law. But those among us who stepped forward to face the harsh unknowns and the lifelong changes that can come from combat did so with the belief that their service would be honored."
In 2008, Obama's Republican rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a Navy flyer and prisoner of war in Vietnam, won 54 percent of the votes cast by military personnel, exit polls showed. But Obama carried Virginia, in part, by blunting McCain's vote in counties with a strong military presence.
Obama has had a string of foreign policy achievements in his first term, from killing Osama bin Laden and other top al Qaeda operatives to winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the president has been taking heat recently for his response to the killing of a U.S. ambassador and three others in Libya and for proposing cuts to military spending.
"Killing bin Laden was good, and pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan was going to happen, so that's good," said Bill Hayes, a 20-year Navy veteran. "But our readiness today isn't where it needs to be, and that relates to the budget and it's where I think Romney will do better."