As Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney prepare for tonight’s third and final debate in Boca Raton, Fla., both were represented by surrogates in the Roanoke Valley earlier this morning.
First, former GOP presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania visited the Republican Victory Office at the corner of Odgen Road and Electric Road in Roanoke County.
Santorum worked the room, making sure to greet every one of the nearly 60 people gathered — including members of the local media. He then delivered a stump speech on behalf of Romney, touching on a variety of topics but focusing especially on regulations handed down from the Obama administration. He said those regulations act as law and that the president has used them to get around Congress and the American people.
“What this administration has done to repeatedly change the law without going through the process of getting congress and this country to buy into these changes is an affront to the republic and is an affront to democracy in general,” Santorum said.
He called on supporters to work to get out the vote, telling them he is working with a group that plans to ship in staff from already decided states to help turn the tide in battlegrounds like Virginia.
“This area of Virginia is key,” Santorum said. “This is Romney country down here because they realize what this president is doing to this country. They realize it because they see the direct impact on their jobs in energy, particularly coal.”
And he called on supporters to help elected Republican George Allen to the Senate over Democrat Tim Kaine. Santorum said that Allen’s election is crucial to repealing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
“We cannot repeal Obamacare unless we have 51 votes in the United States Senate,” Santorum said. “Virginia is one of those where we have to win this Senate race. We have to win this race to get to the majority.”
Santorum did take questions from local media outlets, including a couple on tonight’s debate and its focus on foreign policy.
“As bad as Barack Obama’s record has been on the economy, it’s much worse on national security,” Santorum said. “There isn’t a relationship with an ally of this country that is better as a result of Barack Obama. And there isn’t any enemy where the relationship is on where they respect us more. In fact our enemies fear us and respect us less. And our allies trust us less and rely upon us less.”
I asked what he thought about analysis that suggests Romney made a play for the political center during the first two debates.
“Point me out something where Gov. Romney said something different in the general election than he did in the primary,” Santorum said. “People have said his tax plan and his plan on the economy have moved toward the middle. You’ve got to remember that Gov. Romney was criticized heavily by me and others b/c his plan was not as dramatic as mine was in both cutting taxes and cutting spending.”
He added this, to approval from supporters who were watching the Q&A: “When the left criticizes him for moving to the middle and the right doesn’t, that tells you something.”
Later in the day, the Obama campaign a say about the state of the campaign as well, sending a delegation of surrogates on a cross-state tour that stopped at Landmark Aviation in Roanoke.
The news conference was headed up by Robert Gibbs, former White House Press Secretary and senior campaign advisor, and also included comments from Michèle Flournoy, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; Richard Danzig, former Secretary of Navy under President Bill Clinton; former Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., who served as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and as a member of the Middle East Subcommittee; and Colin Kahl, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East.
The group stumped for Obama on national defense, arguing that he’s strengthened America’s standing in the world and that Romney would set it back.
“We live in a very dangerous and complicated world. We need a leader in the White House who understands that complexity,” Gibbs said. “Mitt Romney has shown us nothing but dangerous bluster and endless foreign policy blunders.”
Flournoy talked fiscal matters, arguing that Romney’s running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, had voted for the package that set up the so-called “fiscal cliff” and which includes $500 billion in automatic defense cuts unless Congress can reach a deal. Wexler said Obama has worked to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and has continued the United States’ cooperation with Israel. And Kahl said that Obama inherited a war in Iraq, which he’s essentially ended, and the remnants of a war in Afghanistan that had essentially been ignored in favor of Iraq. Kahl argued that Obama has carried on the war against al-Qaeda, giving the order that led to the death of Osama bid Laden and ordering drone strikes that have eliminated much of the organization’s command.
In response to questions, Gibbs said that Virginia is very much in play in this election.
“There are very few places that are more important in this election than in Virginia,” Gibbs said.
He said over the next 15 days, “You’ ll see appearances. You’ll see press conferences like this. We’ll call into radio shows. The president will do interviews. He’ll call undecided voters, even from Air Force One. We’ll pull out all the stops to win, not just in Virginia but all over the place.”
Gibbs said the Obama campaign has not given up on the commonwealth: “If we wrote off Virginia, we sure didn’t get the memo before we landed the plane here. Look, Virginia is probably one of the one or two most important states in this whole election. Nobody’s going to give up on Virginia, certainly not our campaign. If the other side thinks they won Virginia, I’m happy to have that declaration because it means that all the things I just outlined, they won’t do. But we’re going to be here a lot. We’re going to be here doing everything we can to reach voters.”
– Mason Adams