(CNN) - On the offense in a state that has historically voted GOP in presidential elections, President Obama brought his campaign to the southern tip of Virginia Thursday and made a direct appeal to military veterans whose support he will need to carry the Old Dominion's 13 electoral votes.
"I travel around a lot in Virginia and across this country, I don't meet a lot of victims," the president told a crowd here numbering more than 7,000. "I see a whole bunch of veterans who have served this country with bravery and distinction. And I see soldiers who defend our freedom every single day."
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The comments, in reference to rival Mitt Romney's recently revealed statements that the 47% of Americans who don't pay income tax view themselves as "victims," came on the heels of a rhetorically-charged introduction by Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, himself a veteran. Webb noted that many of those Americans who don't pay taxes are those who receive veteran's benefits or active-duty members in combat.
"In receiving veteran's benefits, they are not takers," Webb said to cheers as he attacked Romney's comments. "They are givers in the ultimate sense of the word."
Veteran support is crucial to the Obama campaign's hopes of winning the state. While the president enjoys broad support in the Washington, DC suburbs that constitute northern Virginia, support for him in places like veteran-heavy Virginia Beach is considerably softer. A short 25-minute plane ride from Washington, the county is among the most divided counties in the state – and one he needs to perform well in if he is to score a repeat victory in a state that voted for every Republican presidential candidate in the four decades preceding the president's 2008 win
In 2008, Obama lost Virginia Beach County by 1 percentage point, largely because of veteran support for then-rival John McCain. But Obama campaign aides believe they have a larger opening this election with veterans in light of the president's more muscular than expected foreign policy and Romney's widely noted omission of service-member related issues in his convention address.
"They are owed, they are owed," Webb also said. "If nothing else, at least a mention, some word of thanks and respect from a presidential candidate who is their generational peer when he makes a speech accepting the nomination to be commander in chief."
Like his trip to Ohio Wednesday, Obama appears to enter this key battleground state with the wind at his back. A string of recent polls suggest the president is maintaining a narrow lead over Romney and the Obama campaign is confident wins in both Ohio and Virginia will essentially foreclose any path Romney has to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.
"If you stand with me, and work with me, we'll win the Tidewater again. We'll win Virginia again," Obama told the enthusiastic crowd packed in an outdoor pavilion that ordinarily plays hosts to top musical acts.
From here, the president is expected to spend two days in Washington before heading west to Nevada on Sunday where he will hold an evening rally and prepare for the first presidential debate next week.