Romney steers pitch back to economy as he boosts push in Virginia

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FAIRFAX, Va. -- An enthusiastic crowd of northern Virginians welcomed Mitt Romney at an outdoor rally Thursday in Van Dyck Park, where the Republican presidential nominee pledged to help shape world events rather than be at the mercy of them.

Mr. Romney said the country is in mourning after Wednesday's deadly attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The former Masaachusetts governor neither bolstered nor backed off his earlier criticism of the Obama administration's reaction time and what he has characterized as an apologetic tone in response to the attack.

Rather, he quickly segued into his standard stump speech by saying 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 aimed to continue opening up a gap in Virginia, where a Gravis Marketing poll this week showed him leading by 49 percent to 44 percent, reversing President Barack Obama's August lead of 44 percent to 40 percent in the same poll.

The president hadn't lost any ground, but Mr. Romney picked up previously undecided voters in this historically Republican state, where last week Mr. Romney aired targeted campaign ads on this theme: "Here in Virginia, we're not better under Barack Obama."

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Mr. Romney's running mate, is continuing the campaign's hard push through the state today with a stump speech in Rockingham County and a fundraiser in Roanoke. It will be his fifth visit to Virginia since being chosen by Mr. Romney, who has visited Virginia nine times since February.

The Obama campaign, meanwhile, is trying to reclaim Virginia by sending first lady Michelle Obama to headline campaign events in Richmond and Fredericksburg. Since May, the president, Mrs. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have made a combined 15 visits to Virginia.

The campaign flurry bolsters Virginia's status as crucial 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 Romney campaign, about 2,700 people attended the Van Dyck Park rally. Four years ago, Arizona Sen. John McCain and then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the GOP ticket, drew at least 15,000 -- and possibly as many as 23,000, according to some published reports -- to a rally at the same park.

Gretchen Nagy, a retired Virginia teacher who grew up in Mt. Lebanon, said she is supporting Mr. Romney because of his positions on social issues such as abortion and federally funded contraception.

She's also looking to him to scale back Mr. Obama's Affordable Care Act. "It's going to affect a lot of us, because we're not going to be able to get as good care," she said. "I'm afraid of what will happen" if the law isn't repealed.

Mostly, she supports Mr. Romney because she thinks the president has failed: "I just don't think Obama has done a good job."

Another retired teacher, Joan Quill of Fairfax, said Mr. Romney gave a thoughtful speech, but she's looking forward to the presidential debates next month, when she expects he'll have to say more about foreign policy.

"I want to hear him talk about how he's going to handle crises [such as the consulate attack in Libya] more," she said. She also wants him to elaborate on his immigration stance and distinguish that from the president's by letting voters know that he'll put U.S. interests ahead of the United Nation's, whose members tend to avoid interventionism.

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Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: or 703-996-9292.


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