President Obama greets attendees after speaking during the 113th national… (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty images )
RENO – As the focus of the presidential campaign shifts to foreign policy, President Obama on Monday told the nation’s leading veterans group that he has lived up to his promise to keep the nation safe.
Obama addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention here a day before Mitt Romney will, setting the tone for the Republican candidate’s upcoming weeklong trip overseas.
In his remarks, the president sought to maximize what his campaign sees as an advantage on issues of diplomacy and national security, ones that have taken a back seat to the economy.
“As you reflect on recent years, as we look ahead to the challenges we face as a nation, and the leadership that’s required, you don’t just have my words. You have my deeds. You have my track record. You have the promises I’ve made and the promises that I’ve kept,” Obama said.
He never mentioned Romney by name, but referred instead to unnamed critics who have questioned his handling of a drawdown of forces in Iraq and a transition of the mission in Afghanistan. He also indirectly challenged Romney to offer more specifics.
“Some said that bringing our troops home last year was a mistake. They would have kept tens of thousands of our forces in Iraq indefinitely, without a clear mission,” Obama said. “Well, when you’re commander in chief, you owe the troops a plan. You owe the country a plan, and that includes recognizing not just when to begin wars but also how to end them.”
After being introduced as the “commander in chief,” Obama entered the hall to the familiar strains of “Hail to the Chief” and to a polite reception. He opened his remarks by referring to the shooting tragedy in Aurora, Colo., which claimed the lives of 12 people, including several enlisted in the armed forces.
“These young patriots were willing to serve in faraway lands,” Obama said, “yet they were taken away from us here at home.”
The speech was Obama’s first to the VFW since 2009. The Democrat lost the veterans vote to Republican John McCain in 2008 by 54% to 44%, according to exit polls.
But this year, in a contest in which neither candidate has served in uniform, both sides are actively courting the military vote. The same exit polls showed that 15% of voters had served in the U.S. military, a bigger share of the electorate than African American (13%) or Latino voters (9%), groups Obama carried handily.
Obama has a 47%-40% advantage over Romney on the question of who would do a better job handling foreign policy, according to the latest CBS News/New York Times poll. But the issue ranked as “extremely important” to just 25% of those surveyed, far behind the economy and jobs, healthcare, and the federal budget deficit.
The two candidates were more closely matched on the issue of terrorism and security, with the president leading 44% to 43%.
In a Pew Research Center survey, Obama had an 8-point advantage on foreign policy and a 12-point advantage on defending against terrorist attacks.
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