Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney promised on Thursday to beef up America's military and open Virginia's shores to oil exploration in a pitch to the swing state's large military population and economically depressed coastal communities that will play a large role in choosing the next president.
The former Massachusetts governor delivered highly anticipated remarks in Portsmouth that featured a surprise endorsement from a former rival, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, and an unofficial vice presidential tryout for Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
It was an opportunity for Romney to throw down the gauntlet in what is quite possibly the most important battleground in the November election just days before President Obama arrives in Richmond to officially launch his re-election campaign.
Both Romney and Bachmann quoted speeches from Obama's 2008 campaign to highlight what they called his broken promises.
"He said he measures progress by whether we're creating jobs that allow people to pay mortgages," Romney said. "Well, he hasn't been creating jobs, and by a record number, people haven't been able to pay mortgages."
Romney vowed that as president he would increase America's naval fleet -- welcome news in Hampton Roads with its massive military presence and the nation's only shipyard capable of building nuclear aircraft carriers. Romney renewed his commitment to veterans, accusing Obama of exploiting former servicemen and women for political gain by making campaign-style pitches to improve conditions for military returning from combat. Virginia has the largest veteran population in the country.
The one-year anniversary of the successful mission to take out Osama bin Laden offered Obama the opportunity to flex his mettle as commander in chief, but Romney insisted the president's foreign policy and proposed defense budget cuts would weaken the country.
"Virginians are not going to be fooled," Romney said. "Every four years, a president becomes a friend of the veterans and a friend of the military. Vote someone in who will keep America strong."
Romney welcomed the endorsement of Bachmann, who insisted during her short-lived presidential bid that Romney could not beat Obama. It's proof, Romney said, that a once-fractured party is coalescing around his campaign. Bachmann said she was offering "my voice and my endorsement" so conservatives could focus on their top priority of defeating Obama.
"This isn't personal," Bachmann said. "This is about having a performance review after three and a half years."
With Romney, Bachmann and McDonnell sharing a stage, Virginia Democrats took aim at the socially conservative records of all three.
"Across the commonwealth, women have been paying close attention to the extreme agendas of Mitt Romney and Bob McDonnell as they focus on stripping away women's rights instead of creating jobs and helping our economy," said Jennifer Kohl, spokeswoman for Obama's Virginia campaign.