By Tom Cohen and Ashley Killough, CNN
WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Barack Obama campaigns Friday in Virginia, taking his message of middle class opportunity to a region with a large military population worried about possible deep spending cuts if Congress fails to reach agreement this election year on comprehensive deficit reduction measures.
The day of three campaign events in a key November battleground state comes as the race with Republican candidate Mitt Romney heats up amid accusations of lying and diversionary tactics by both sides.
Obama carried Virginia in 2008, becoming the first Democratic to win the state since 1964, and polls show him with a slight lead over Romney at this point.
According to his campaign, the president will focus Friday on the “two fundamentally different visions” being debated in the 2012 presidential race, particularly when it comes to finding solutions for the lagging economy.
His schedule calls for speeches Friday in Virginia Beach, Hampton and Roanoke, then a return to the White House before two more Virginia events Saturday in Richmond and Chantilly.
Similar to some other swing states, Virginia’s economy fares better than much of the country, with an unemployment rate at 5.6% compared to the national average at 8.2%.
Virginia receives a heavy amount of federal spending for military purposes, with the world’s largest naval base in Norfolk. That focuses Obama’s visit on the battle in Congress with Republicans over how to reduce the mounting federal deficit.
The Pentagon is already required to cut nearly $500 billion as part of an agreement that allowed Obama to raise the debt ceiling. The same deal created a congressional “super committee” tasked to find more than $1 trillion in deficit reduction measures over the next decade, but no solution was reached.
If Obama and Congress cannot come to agreement by the end of the year, another $500 billion would automatically be axed from the defense budget under a broad series of automatic cuts known as sequestration.
Major contractors like Lockheed Martin have warned that if a deficit deal is not reached, thousands may be laid off due to the sequestration cuts.
While Republicans and Democrats signed on to the sequestration plan in hopes of creating a worst-case scenario to motivate congressional action, GOP leaders now are pushing Obama to outline his plans for the further cuts if they become necessary.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, challenged Obama to provide details on the campaign trail on how military spending should be further reduced, asking in a website posting Friday if the president will “share with Virginia families his plan to replace the looming defense cuts” set to take place next year.
“We hope so, because we sure haven’t seen it yet and the president has remained more engaged in his campaign than on addressing the needs of families in states like Virginia,” Boehner wrote.
The White House contends that Republican intransigence to any kind of tax increase — even under Obama’s proposal to maintain Bush-era tax cuts for all but the wealthiest 2% of the population — prevents a broader deficit reduction deal in Congress.
“What he supports, what he signed into law, what bipartisan majorities of both parties passed last year was a legislative commitment by Congress to take action to avoid the sequester,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Thursday. ” … The across-the-board cuts were objectionable and onerous to both sides for a reason. That’s why Congress has to act.”
Carney called for the defense industry and the American public “to remind Congress that it’s important to compromise and take a balanced approach here.”
“The stalemate has been created by Republican insistence that there be no revenues as part of a balanced approach” to deficit reduction, Carney said, adding the GOP position is “unsustainable.”
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters traveling with Obama on Friday that the president will emphasize his support for military families during the Virginia swing. Psaki also noted Romney’s support for the House GOP budget proposal that she said would cut billions in funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Earlier, Virginia’s Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, told CNN that he believes support for Romney is growing in his state.
“About four months ago, Romney was down 8 points,” McDonnell said, adding that the more that people examine what he called “the failed leadership and impact of the regulatory policies in Virginia” in comparison to Romney’s ideas, “I think it gets better for Romney.”
“I won by 18 points after (Obama’s 2008 victory in Virginia) and what I’m hearing on the ground from business people and just the independent voter is this jobless record of 41 months over 8% and crushing national debt are the things that are driving people towards Mitt Romney,” McDonnell said.
Meanwhile, both campaigns came out with new attacks Friday that challenged the credibility of the opposing candidate.
A new Romney ad used footage of Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech to frame the president as hypocritical in his campaign tactics.
The 30-second spot, titled “What happened?”, faults Obama for making “dishonest” attacks in the 2012 presidential race, despite condemning such strategy in his speech four years ago. The clips of Obama’s old speech in Denver, however, appeared to be presented out of context.
In addition, the ad notes recent Obama attacks on Romney’s history at Bain Capital, his former private equity firm, that accuse the former Massachusetts governor of advocating the outsourcing of jobs overseas.
Many of those claims have been debunked by a non-partisan fact-checking group and strongly contested by Romney’s team.
For its part, the Obama campaign released a new online video called “Your Turn” that highlights what it called Romney’s misrepresentation of his departure from Bain Capital
Romney says he ceded control at Bain Capital in February 1999 in preparation to run the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. However, The Boston Globe reported Thursday that documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission stated that Romney owned 100% of the company until as late as 2002.
Romney’s campaign spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, called the Boston Globe article “not accurate”, and Steve Pagliuca, a Bain managing partner, told CNN that Romney had “absolutely no involvement with the management or investment activities” of the firm after his February 1999 exit, although he continued to be the sole stockholder.
“Due to the sudden nature of Mr. Romney’s departure, he remained the sole stockholder for a time while formal ownership was being documented and transferred to the group of partners who took over management of the firm in 1999,” said Pagliuca, a Democrat. “Accordingly, Mr. Romney was reported in various capacities on SEC filings during this period.”
The timing of his end date at the firm remains an important focal point in the presidential race, as Romney argues he left the company before it was involved with the shuttering of certain businesses that led to job losses.
The nonpartisan group FactCheck.org said it previously looked into the matter of when Romney left Bain Capital and concluded there was insufficient evidence to show that Romney was still managing the company, even part-time, during his time with the Olympics.
Obama’s campaign also has been calling on Romney to release more than the two years’ worth of tax documents he has already made public, suggesting the candidate may be hiding important details about his finances.
The chief of the House Republicans’ campaign arm said Thursday it was reasonable for people to ask for more information about Romney’s personal financial records.
“His personal finances, the way he does things, his record, are fair game,” Texas Republican Pete Sessions told CNN.
So far, the former Massachusetts governor has released his 2010 tax records and an estimate for 2011, but he has filed an extension for his 2011 taxes. In an interview on Fox News on Wednesday, Romney said he’ll release the most recent documents “as soon as they’re prepared.” Romney has an estimated net worth of more than $250 million.
In addition, Romney’s campaign released a television ad Thursday accusing Obama of spreading “dishonest attacks” that Bain Capital specialized in advising companies on outsourcing while Romney was its head.
The new Romney ad noted that FactCheck.org said there is “no evidence” that Romney was directly responsible for shipping jobs overseas while he headed the company.
In a sign that Republicans want to shift attention away from the Bain Capital issue, Romney’s campaign teased supporters Thursday with news of an upcoming announcement on his choice for a vice presidential nominee.
“Sometime between now and the Republican convention, Mitt will be announcing his choice for VP,” said an e-mail from campaign manager Matt Rhoades.
Later Thursday, the conservative Drudge Report posted a story, attributed to unnamed sources, saying that Romney had narrowed the field of prospective candidates to a handful, with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as “a surprise name” on the short list.
Rice, who was the first African-American woman to serve as Secretary of State, has repeatedly denied any interest in running for vice president. In addition, Romney has previously declared his running mate will be someone who opposes abortion, while Rice told CBS in 2008 that she was “mildly pro-choice.”
Erick Erickson, a CNN contributor and the editor of Red State, a popular conservative blog, tweeted that he had been assured by people in the Romney campaign that the choice would not be Rice.
CNN’s Kevin Bohn, Paul Steinhauser and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.