During a whirlwind campaign blitz through Hampton Roads on Friday, President Barack Obama stressed Virginia's importance to his re-election as he gave vigorous speeches, met with military spouses, shook hands with scores of supporters and held at least two babies.
During a 30-minute speech before a cheering crowd of 1,300 in the gym of Green Run High School, the president pushed his proposal to keep tax cuts in place for families earning less than $250,000 a year - about 98 percent of Americans - but allow the cuts expire for those with larger incomes.
"Everybody's income taxes go up on Jan. 1st if Congress does nothing," Obama said. "So what I've said is now is not the time to raise taxes on the middle class. The economy is still fragile."
The wealthiest Americans can afford to pay more, he said.
"The top 2 percent, folks like me, we don't need a tax break," he said. "We already benefitted from most of the tax cuts over the last decade."
He criticized GOP candidate Mitt Romney and Republicans in Congress, saying they want to cut government spending on education and infrastructure improvements in order to lower taxes on the wealthy.
"I don't think top-down economics works. I believe that we grow this economy from the middle out. From the bottom up. I believe the heart and soul of this country is making sure that working people can feel some security in the middle class," he said.
Not everyone was happy to see the president. Some along his motorcade route displayed anti-Obama signs or gave the thumbs down. Gov. Bob McDonnell, who was hosting the National Governors Association in Williamsburg, accused Obama of using scare tactics to influence voters to distract from his record on taxes, energy, and military spending.
"All that wonderful, lofty hope and change rhetoric from 2008 has now devolved into a record and a message of division and destruction," the Republican governor said.
But most of what Obama heard and saw Friday were cheers and signs of support.
Arriving mid-morning aboard Air Force One at Norfolk International Airport, Obama stepped off the plane in casual dress, his shirt sleeves rolled up. A few steps behind him, in similar attire, were U.S. Sen. Mark Warner and Democratic senate candidate Tim Kaine.
After talking with about 50 supporters on the tarmac, Obama traveled to Rick's Cafe, a 24-hour restaurant on Virginia Beach Boulevard, for an unannounced visit with three spouses of service members.
Jennifer Farlin, a Chesapeake mother of two, praised Obama for putting more emphasis on military families.
"I love that the administration is more focused on military families because prior to this, we were sort of lost," said Farlin, whose husband is a Navy officer serving in Bahrain.
As they spoke, word spread across the strip mall that Obama was there, and a small crowd - including a woman in curlers who ran out of a nearby hair salon - gathered outside.
"Anybody getting their hair done?" Obama shouted as he left the restaurant and approached the crowd.
He shook hands and briefly held two babies before his motorcade moved on to Green Run High.
After his speech, the next campaign stop was in Hampton. The president didn't have to brave bridge-tunnel traffic to get there: he returned to the airport for a 14-minute flight across the water to Joint Base Langley.
On the way to Phoebus High School in Hampton, the motorcade made another unannounced stop at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3219 on Mellen Street.
Obama entered the dimly lit, smoky room and walked around shaking hands. He met Pearl and Margaret, two white-haired ladies standing next to the bar.
"What an honor," said Pearl. Margaret spoke so softly she could barely be heard.
Obama held her hand lightly and told her he was happy to meet her.
Steve Martin, owner of a business next door to the VFW, said he voted for Obama in 2008 and would again this fall. "He walked into this mess; he's doing the best he can," Martin said.
Obama addressed another enthusiastic crowd of 1,300 at Phoebus High, continuing to hammer Romney for his support of continued tax breaks for the wealthy.
"We don't need more top-down economics," he said. "We need somebody who's going to fight for the middle class."
As the crowd chanted his name and "Four more years," the president frequently had to speak over ebullient yells of support.
"We still believe," he said. "We believe in hope. We believe in change."
A man in the crowd yelled, "We've got your back!"
"And I've got yours," the president responded.
From Hampton, Obama flew to Roanoke for his third Virginia stop of the day.
Staff writer Julian Walker contributed to this report.
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