NORFOLK, Va. – The far-flung swing states that have the most sway in the presidential election have something else in common – a large share of military veterans who are getting special attention from the fiercely dueling campaigns.
In a White House campaign this hard-fought, no interest group can be ignored. But veterans are an especially prized group since so many live in battlegrounds including Colorado, Florida, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia.
Backing those who have served the country also sends a feel-good patriotic message to the electorate at large. And although veterans traditionally lean Republican, both candidates see an opening to win over veterans this year.
Veterans account for about 17 percent of registered voters nationally, but more than that in most of the battleground states. Its a predominantly male voting bloc, one with a high propensity to register and turn out, which could help Romney offset Obamas edge among female voters.
The president points to winding down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, increasing the budget for the VA and enacting programs aimed at providing veterans with education, employment and housing.
Romney promotes a military buildup and links Obama with a deficit-reduction plan supported by Republicans and Democrats alike in Congress that would cut military spending and cost potentially thousands of defense industry jobs.
Romneys running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, also voted for the cuts as laid out in the sequestration that lawmakers passed during the summer 2011 budget deal.
Romney says GOP lawmakers made a mistake in supporting the plan. Obama too has vowed the automatic cuts will not take place.
Overall, veterans issues dont even crack the top 10 in national polls of campaign priorities, where the federal budget deficit, health care, terrorism and illegal immigration run far behind jobs.
Romney, who has no military service, led Obama among active duty military and veterans, 59 percent to 37 percent, in a national Gallup poll taken this month.
Although trailing with veterans overall, Obama leads among younger and minority veterans.