Romney pushes to increase polling lead over Obama in battleground Virginia

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FAIRFAX, Va. -- An enthusiastic crowd of northern Virginians today welcomed Mitt Romney to an outdoor rally at Van Dyck Park, where the former Massachusetts governor promised to help shape world events rather than be at the mercy of them.

The Republican presidential nominee, Mr. Romney said the country is in mourning after Wednesday's deadly attack on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

He neither reiterated nor backed off his earlier criticism of the Obama administration's reaction time and apologetic tone in responding to the attack.

Rather, he quickly segued into his standard stump speech by saying that a stronger military will bring a strong economy.

He promised to work toward energy independence, smarter trade policy, better schools, smaller government and a business-friendly climate.

Fresh off earlier campaign stops in Virginia Beach and Richmond, Mr. Romney's aim here was to continue opening up a gap in Virginia, where a Gravis Marketing poll this week showed him leading 49 percent to 44 percent over President Obama.

The president didn't lose any ground in the poll, but Mr. Romney picked up previously undecided voters in this historically red state, where last week he unleashed a string of targeted campaign commercials drumming home the theme that "Here in Virginia we're not better under Barack Obama."

Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, is continuing the campaign's hard push through the state with a stump speech in Rockingham County and a fund-raiser Friday in Roanoke.

It will be his fifth visit to Virginia since becoming Mr. Romney's running mate.

Mr. Romney has visited Virginia nine times since February.

The Obama campaign, meanwhile, is trying to reclaim Virginia by sending first lady Michelle Obama to headline campaigns in Richmond and Fredericksburg.

The flurry of campaign activity reinforces Virginia's status as a potentially crucial state in this election.

With 13 electoral votes and enough swing voters to make a difference in a tight race, this battleground state is a prime target that both campaigns believe to be up for grabs.

According to the campaign, about 2,700 people attended Mr. Romney's Van Dyck Park rally. Four years ago, Arizona candidate John McCain and

then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin drew about 23,000 to a campaign rally at the same park, according to some published reports.

Supporter Joan Quill, a retired math teacher from Fairfax, said Mr. Romney's gave a thoughtful speech, but that she's looking forward to the presidential debates when he'll have to say more about foreign policy.

"I want to hear him talk about how he's going to handle crises [like the Libyan embassy attack] more," she said.

She also wants him to elaborate on his immigration policy and to distinguish his policy from the president's by letting voters know that he'll put America's interests ahead of those of the United Nations, whose members tend to avoid interventionism, she said.

She also wanted to hear more about Libya.

"When embassies are attacked, we need a reasonable response," she said. "I would have thought [Mr. Obama] would have acted more promptly."

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Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com or 703-996-9292.


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