Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney greets supporters at a campaign… (Rich-Joseph Facun, Associated…)
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Making a play for veterans and evangelical voters in this conservative military community, Mitt Romney on Saturday accused President Obama of straying from the nation's guiding principles.
After spontaneously reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in his speech, Romney referred to the fact that U.S. coins bear the motto "In God we trust" and said he would resist any move to change that.
"For me, the Pledge of Allegiance and placing our hand over our heart reminds us of the blood that was shed by our sons and daughters fighting for our liberty and sharing liberty with people around the world," Romney said. "The pledge says 'under God.' I will not take God out of the name of our platform. I will not take God off our coins and I will not take God out of my heart. We're a nation that's bestowed by God."
It was unclear precisely what prompted the remark because striking the motto has not been proposed in recent memory by anyone in mainstream politics, including the president. It comes as Romney and Obama emerge from their nominating conventions and begin the all-out sprint to the November election.
Each side is now trying to fire up its base of support, hoping to pull ahead in a tight race in which the numbers haven't moved much at all over the last few months.
In the days since the Democratic National Convention ended, Obama has seen a small bounce in polls that show him widening a small lead over Romney.
Obama's lead among registered voters grew to 49% to 45% in Gallup's tracking poll, his widest in the survey since late April.
It represented an increase of 1 point since Friday and a 5-point swing from Romney's 47%-46% lead in the Gallup survey just before the Republican convention.
The bump might be only a temporary one that fades with the memories of the Democratic convention. Probably more important is what the candidates do with their post-convention enthusiasm.
Like Romney, Obama turned to revving up his base — in his case during a two-day bus tour of the crucial swing state of Florida.
Obama fed exuberant crowds in St. Petersburg and Kissimmee with fiery rhetoric about what might happen to the rights of gays and lesbians, young immigrants and women in a Republican administration.
"If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other folks are going to fill the void," Obama said in St. Petersburg, before providing a partial list.
"The lobbyists, the special interests, the people who are writing $10-million checks, the folks who are trying to keep people from voting, the politicians who want to tell you who you can marry, tell women they can't have control over their own healthcare choices," he said as the crowd screamed.
"Can't go back!" shouted one audience member, anticipating Obama's line.
"Can't go backwards," Obama answered.
In an attempt to ride some of the momentum out of the convention, the Obama campaign is dispatching President Clinton to Florida next week to reprise his interpretation of how the Romney-Ryan plans for Medicare and Medicaid would hurt the middle class.
In Zanesville, Ohio, on Saturday, Vice President Joe Biden assailed Romney's proposals for Medicare and taxes, saying they were "just not fair."
The only reply to the Romney remarks about God and coins was from an Obama campaign spokeswoman, who accused the GOP nominee of associating with "some of the most strident and divisive voices in the Republican Party, including Rep. Steve King [of Iowa] and Pat Robertson." Romney met with Robertson on Saturday before his speech, though aides said the two did not discuss the candidate's planned remarks.
The "God gap" is real for Democrats, though, and the party was embarrassed last week when Republicans pointed out that the rewrite of their party platform had left out the phrase "God-given potential" in a passage about jobs and work. The Democrats quickly scrambled to reinsert the word "God" into a platform that already included the word "faith" 11 times.
Reston reported from Virginia Beach and Parsons from St. Petersburg. Staff writers Michael A. Memoli in Zanesville and David Lauter in Washington contributed to this report.