WASHINGTON -- As President Barack Obama embarks on several campaign stops in Virginia this week, the Mitt Romney campaign criticized the White House on Thursday for allowing budget cuts to hit the military, saying the belt-tightening would hurt American defense and the economy.
The attack, made by Romney surrogates on a call with reporters, is part of the campaign's strategy to make headway in Virginia through looming defense cuts that could hit the swing state hard. Obama won the state by six points in 2008, but the shrinking military budget means layoff notices could hit thousands of defense contractors in the weeks leading up to the November election.
"As he comes to Virginia, most Virginians are concerned about the economy and their jobs," Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) said on the call, which was billed as an opportunity to "welcome" Obama to the state. "And what does the president bring with him? He has a huge box of pink slips that he's going to distribute across Virginia."
The defense cuts are the result of last year's debt-ceiling fight between House Republicans and the White House. Under the deal, the Defense Department must trim its budget by about $500 billion over ten years, and the Pentagon will have to trim an extra $50 billion in the short term if Congress can't find savings elsewhere by year's end. Forbes said the impending cuts could cost Virginia 128,000 jobs.
The military cuts have put some GOP lawmakers in an awkward position, testing their commitment to budget-trimming at a time when Republicans are broadly calling for austerity.
Former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.) called Obama's approval of the budget plan "the most irresponsible thing a commander in chief has done" in Talent's time "in and around Washington."
"It's going to have a huge impact on jobs in the country," he said. "These are overwhelmingly high-paying jobs, often in the manufacturing industry."
In an email, Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner criticized Romney for embracing a House Republican budget that would cut Veterans Affairs funding. He also said Romney needs to call on Republicans in Congress to come up with a plan to avoid automatic budget cuts through the sequestration trigger.
"Mitt Romney and Congressional Republicans are so determined to provide massive tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires that they’d put middle class military families at risk," Kanner said. "The Administration has made it clear that sequestration would be disastrous for our national security, and that's why Mitt Romney needs to demonstrate leadership and press his congressional allies to avoid it from becoming a reality."
Obama will be joined by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Democratic Senate hopeful Tim Kaine, a former Virginia governor, on the campaign trail Friday. According to recent polls, Obama holds a slight lead over Romney in Virginia.
This post has been updated with comment from the Obama campaign.