Mitt Romney's effort to overtake President Obama in the crucial swing state of Virginia may depend on how effective he is at convincing voters he can limit the economic damage from pending defense cuts.
The Republican presidential candidate will give a foreign policy address at the Virginia Military Institute on Monday, looking to highlight what he calls President Obama's "taking a meat cleaver to the military."
Under a deal between the Obama administration and Congress to raise the nation's borrowing capacity last year, leaders agreed to implement $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board reductions over the next decade if a broader debt reduction solution is not achieved. Nearly half of those cuts would come from the defense budget, a cash cow for Virginia.
Both parties agreed to slash defense as a consequence of a failed deficit deal. But Romney has said Obama bears most of the responsibility because he failed to lead effectively during the fiscal crisis.
And analysts said that attack is helping the GOP challenger in the Old Dominion, where polls recently have tightened.
"Politically, in Virginia, it works," said Jeremy Mayer, a political scientist at George Mason University. "Virginia understands how dependent the economy here is on military spending. It's almost a statewide message."
Northern Virginia is a hotbed for defense contractors, and further south in the Hampton Roads area, the military is the backbone of the community.
The Romney campaign is rolling out the likes of Virginia defense contractor Joe Travez, of Ashburn-based Prototype Productions, in the buildup to the Republican's foreign policy speech in Lexington.
"Every night I go to sleep worrying about the future for all my employees," Travez said. "Every day I wake up wondering when [the Obama] administration will lead on Capitol Hill."
A recent study from George Mason University economist Stephen Fuller predicted that Virginia would lose more than 200,000 jobs over the next decade if leaders opt to plunge over the so-called fiscal cliff this fall.
Virginia contractors, from defense industry titans to small-business owners, have already altered the way they're doing business, saying they can ill-afford to be caught off guard by a late round of mandated pink slips.
If Romney is to prevail in Virginia, he'll need military families to turn out in large numbers on Election Day. Recent surveys show that he has a commanding 20-percentage-point lead among military veterans nationwide, which would help blunt Obama's advantage among women, minorities and younger voters.
Obama is banking that a string of foreign policy successes like the killing of Osama bin Laden and the winding down of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will help narrow the advantage Republicans traditionally enjoy on issues of national security.
And in an era of political microtargeting, the president and first lady Michelle Obama have spent as much time wooing veterans as almost any demographic.
But in Virginia, Romney benefits from the state's top political figures, such as Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, hammering home his message with military voters.
McDonnell made that point in a recent conference call with reporters when he said, "It appears that without a change in the presidency, these devastating defense cuts will go into effect."