VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney campaigned in each other's shadow for a third straight day, hunting for votes already beginning to be cast and arguing over who would be the better job creator.
The president rallied voters in Virginia Beach while Romney told veterans in Springfield, to the north, that across-the-board defense spending cuts scheduled to take effect in January under a deal Obama made with Congress are "a kind of a gun-to-your-head opportunity."
"It's a strange proposal in the first place," Romney told about 200 people at the American Legion post outside Washington. "It's even stranger it's being put into place."
The candidates' debate spread across the airways in Virginia and a handful of other swing states where the campaign is being waged in its final days. Obama released the latest in a series of new ads his campaign has produced featuring a secret recording of Romney saying that 47 percent of Americans believe they are victims and are dependent on government. The latest spot features audio of Romney speaking over photos of people who might fit into that 47 percent category: women with children, veterans, Hispanics and working-class women.
Obama also released a lengthy two-minute commercial in which he speaks into the camera and describes a "new economic patriotism" that he says will create 1 million manufacturing jobs, cut oil imports and hire thousands of new teachers.
Both ads are set to air in New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Nevada and Colorado. They were not running in North Carolina, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, underscoring the states where the president's campaign contends the election is truly being fought.
Although Election Day is six weeks away, ballots are already being cast in some of those swing states.
"It's game day in America," Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters traveling with the president. She noted that Thursday marked the start of early voting in Iowa and that Virginia was sending out absentee ballots.
Obama drove home his commercial's message at the rally, promoting the "new economic patriotism" as rooted in a belief that a growing economy begins with a strong middle class. "I don't think we can get very far with leaders who write off half the nation as a bunch of victims, who never take responsibility for their own lives," Obama said.
Romney argued Obama doesn't deserve another chance to improve the economy, pointing to the Commerce Department's announcement hours earlier of sluggish economic growth in the last quarter. The growth rate was lowered from a previous estimate of 1.7 percent to 1.3 percent for April-June because of the severe drought that reduced farm production in the Midwest.
"Our economy needs to be reinvigorated," he said. "We can't afford four more years of the last four years."
In Virginia, where the military is crucial, Romney said the pending defense spending cuts would devastate the military and eliminate jobs in the state. He said it is "unthinkable" that the U.S. would cut its commitment to the military in a world that remains "troubled and dangerous."
Romney and other Republicans have tried to blame Obama alone for the defense cuts, especially in Virginia. But the GOP overwhelmingly backed the reductions when Congress passed the legislation in August 2011.
Romney has said it was "a mistake" for Republicans to agree to the deal.
Amid both campaigns' hunt for working-class voters, Romney released a new ad Thursday aimed at coal miners. It included video of Obama as a candidate in 2008 saying he would support laws to force emitters of greenhouse gases to buy allowances at auction. "So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it's just that it will bankrupt them," Obama says in the ad.
Meanwhile, new Republican-leaning independent groups have entered the presidential advertising fray as polling suggests Romney's campaign may be losing ground against Obama in key states such as Ohio and Florida.
The commercials, aimed at voters who supported Obama in 2008 but are now undecided, join those from the campaigns and outside groups swamping a narrow and possibly shrinking map of competitive states in the fast-moving presidential contest. Americans for Job Security launched an $8.7 million ad buy in six battleground states, while the Ending Spending Action Fund, a new conservative group bankrolled by billionaire Joe Ricketts, was set to debut a $10 million, four-state ad campaign on Thursday.
Obama supporters also are working to keep Romney's "47 percent" comments alive. Democratic super PAC Priorities USA Action and a political group tied to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees released a radio ad in Ohio and Virginia airing the remarks. The ad, part of a $1.25 million radio buy, tells listeners Romney's "just not looking out for us."
Pickler reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Matthew Daly in Virginia and Beth Fouhy in New York contributed to this report.