While President Barack Obama campaigned through Central Florida on Saturday, Republican candidate Mitt Romney faulted both his own party in Congress and Obama for exposing the armed forces to huge spending cuts.
Romney, campaigning in Virginia's military-dependent tidewater area, was determined to keep the spotlight on the country's weak jobs outlook, laid out in the latest Labor Department report that said the unemployment was at 8.1 percent. It was the first topic he raised in an appearance before a flag-waving audience of 4,000 in a hanger at the private Military Aviation Museum, vintage aircraft on display around him.
"This is not the kind of news that the American people are hoping for and deserve," he said. Then he projected forward to a Romney presidency to add: "I'm here to tell you that things are about to get a lot better."
Speaking in the Navy town of Virginia Beach, where many jobs are tied to defense, Romney criticized the president both for past cuts to military spending and "unthinkable" potential reductions threatened under the so-called "sequestration." That's a series of automatic, across-the-board cuts that will take effect if Congress doesn't reach a budget solution in the next few months. Half of the cuts are set to come from the Pentagon under a deal negotiated between Obama and Republican leaders in Congress.
"I think it was a mistake for Republicans to go along with it," Romney said in an interview taped for Sunday's broadcast of "Meet the Press" on NBC. On the stage, he'd only blamed the president for the defense cuts.
Obama has opposed the depth of the cuts but has said congressional Republicans need to adopt a plan that includes increases in revenue.
Romney called the potential cuts "unthinkable to Virginia, to our employment needs. But it's also unthinkable to the ability and the commitment of America to maintain our liberty. … If I'm president, we'll get rid of the sequestration cuts and rebuild America's military might."
From Virginia Beach, Romney headed for NASCAR territory, prime ground for working-class white voters. He planned to attend the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
Romney and Obama are deadlocked in Virginia, where the Democrat is strong in the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C., and Romney does better in the south and rural areas.
Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, was dispatched to California, for an evening fundraiser in Fresno, a rare departure from the battleground states dominating the campaign itinerary.
Both sides were stepping up mobilization efforts as Election Days approaches — with early voting kicking off in many states over the next few weeks. Democrats held a "nationwide weekend of action" courting voters in battleground states, and Republicans held their third "Super Saturday" to turn phone calls and door-to-door visits into votes.
Romney's campaign announced Saturday it was showing a new Spanish-language ad in Florida that reinforces his argument that Obama is a decent man, but incapable of leading a more robust economic recovery.
"He looks like a nice guy, but that doesn't get us jobs," a man says.
A political group supporting Obama released an ad criticizing Romney for policies that it says would increase the tax burden on middle-income families. The ad by Priorities USA Action, a so-called super PAC, is showing in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.