US President Barack Obama went on the offensive Friday against his Republican foes in the key swing state of Virginia, in the hopes it will vote in his favor as it did in 2008.
Four months before Americans head to the polls on November 6, the Democratic incumbent challenged the economic policies of the Republican party and its White House hopeful Mitt Romney in a speech at a high school in Virginia Beach.
He appealed to Congress to let tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans -- implemented by his Republican predecessor George W. Bush -- expire, while extending those breaks for people making less than $250,000 per year.
"Their economic idea, you can summarize it really easily," Obama said.
"They basically want to give $5 trillion in new tax cuts, mostly for the wealthy, on top of the Bush tax cuts."
Obama charged that the Republicans were convinced that if you "help folks at the top ... somehow all those benefits are going to trickle down on you."
"Now I have to tell you, I think they're wrong," he added to cheers and applause from the 1,400-strong crowd.
Once very conservative -- Richmond was the southern capital during the American Civil War -- Virginia has become more receptive to ideas pushed by Democrats, especially in the suburbs of Washington in the state's north.
Today, minorities make up about 30 percent of the state's population. The number of Hispanics, two-thirds of whom voted for Obama four years ago, doubled between 2000 and 2010.
Obama won Virginia in 2008, a first for a Democratic White House candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
Virginia Beach is near Norfolk, home to the country's largest military port. On Friday, the US president seized on the opportunity to meet for lunch with military wives -- a group supported by his wife Michelle.
Obama was expected to participate in four other events in Virginia through Saturday, passing through residential areas as well as hitting the mountainous Appalachian region.
The tour follows visits to other key battlegrounds Ohio, Pennsylvania and Iowa.
With less than four months to go before the elections, the latest polls suggest Democrats could very well see another victory in the state: according to the RealClearPolitics website, 47.5 percent of Virginia voters back the president, compared to 44.5 percent for Romney.
Unemployment, seen as a key hurdle for Obama, is just 5.6 percent in Virginia -- lower than the national average of 8.2 percent -- and could count in his favor.
In a later television interview, Obama waded into the controversy over Romney's tenure at Bain Capital, saying his multimillionaire rival must answer questions raised about long he remained head of the firm.
Romney "is going to have to answer those questions, because if he aspires to being president, one of the things you learn is you are ultimately responsible for the conduct of your operations," Obama told local television network WJLA.
Obama's campaign launched a fierce attack on Romney Thursday on the issue, accusing the former Massachusetts governor of lying about how long he remained head of Bain.
Romney was due to give several television interviews later Friday.
Romney's wealth, estimated to be around $250 million, has repeatedly surfaced as an issue during the campaign as Obama tries to paint his rival as out of touch with ordinary Americans.
Obama said close scrutiny of Romney's overall record was merited because his opponent was using his business background and ability to become "Mr Fix-It on the economy," as "his main calling card."
"I do not think at all it disqualifies him," Obama told broadcaster CBS in an interview aired Friday, justifying his jabs at Romney's career.
"I think it is entirely appropriate to look at that record and see whether, in fact, his focus was creating jobs and he successfully did that. And when you look at the record, there are questions there that have to be asked."
Romney has played up his experience in the private sector, arguing it makes him qualified to put more Americans back to work.
His campaign has in turn criticized Obama for automatic cuts in the military budget that are due to take effect in early 2013 after Congress failed to agree on how to reduce the deficit last fall.
Republicans hold Obama personally responsible for the cuts and, in an open letter in The Virginian-Pilot newspaper, Romney promised to "use my authority as Commander-in-Chief to protect the troops, not veto efforts to protect them."
"I will never allow our national security to be held hostage to extract political concessions," Romney wrote. "The ultimate responsibility for securing our national defense rests with the president."
Source: AFP American Edition