SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
As Mitt Romney defends his business record, President Barack Obama is on the campaign trail. He'll be in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia and Washington, D.C. today. Yesterday, the president traveled to the Tidewater region of southeastern Virginia, and he continued to make his pitch that he is the best champion for the middle class. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama answered questions about Romney's Bain Capital controversy during a television interview. But he steered clear of the subject while campaigning in Virginia, as if to dismiss the partisan mudslinging as an inside-the-beltway distraction.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It's understandable that as you watch these TV ads that you start thinking that politics just doesn't seem to get what's going on in your lives.
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HORSLEY: Behind the scenes of course, Mr. Obama's re-election campaign is eagerly feeding the Bain storyline - emailing reporters with highlights of each apparent contradiction in Romney's account. Mr. Obama has said in the past, Romney's business background deserves close scrutiny, since Romney himself cites it as his chief qualification for the White House.
In talking directly to voters, though, Mr. Obama limits his criticism to Romney's policy proposals, including big tax cuts for the wealthy. He says Romney assumes the benefits of those cuts would trickle down to help the middle class, while he prefers government programs that help the middle class directly.
OBAMA: I believe that's how you grow the economy - from the middle out, from the bottom up. Looking out for working people and making sure that they've got opportunity. That's what I've been fighting for since I got into this office. That's what I'll be fighting for as long as I have the privilege of being your president.
HORSLEY: It's an argument that works for Greg Davis of Virginia Beach. He'll be supporting Mr. Obama in November.
GREG DAVIS: I definitely don't want Mitt Romney to be in there, because he's definitely not for the little guy. And we are the little guy. You know what I mean, I'd say 85 percent of this nation is the little guy.
HORSLEY: On the campaign trail, Mr. Obama's been polishing his own little-guy credentials. While Romney was vacationing last week at his lakefront house in New Hampshire, the president began telling a story about a more modest family vacation that he took as a child, traveling around the country by Greyhound bus, and staying in Howard Johnsons.
OBAMA: You know, you'd go to the ice machine and the vending machine. Yeah, I was 11 years old. That was a big deal, filling up that bucket of ice and getting that soda. And the point was, your vacation didn't have to be fancy. It just gave you a sense of how you could spend time with each other.
HORSLEY: The president's also been reminding voters about the middle-class tax cuts he pushed through: reducing payroll taxes and the Making Work Pay cut that was part of the stimulus program. Ricki Thompson, who introduced the president in Virginia Beach says, those cuts have saved her family $3700. Thompson is a Navy veteran, and her husband flies F-18s.
RICKI THOMPSON: He actually just came back from a six month deployment overseas. And we're happy to have him home and safe in Virginia.
HORSLEY: The president spent much of yesterday reaching out to the large number of military families in southeastern Virginia. Late in the afternoon, he headed west to Roanoke, a city surrounded by solid Republican countryside.
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HORSLEY: As the sun set outside a picturesque downtown firehouse, Mr. Obama spoke to a crowd of more than 3,000.
OBAMA: The last time I came to this part of Virginia, all the political writers, they're all like, well, he's not serious. He's just making a tactical move. No, I'm serious. I'm going to get some votes down here.
HORSLEY: He'll need them. Republicans are fighting just as hard for Virginia, believing as Mr. Obama does that whomever wins the state will have a good chance of winning the White House.
Scott Horsley, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.