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Obama, Romney Court Veterans In Key States


Now, we're also following the presidential campaign this Monday morning. We have noted on this program how many Americans have not been directly touched by the wars of the past decade. But at the same time, millions have. Well over two million American troops have rotated through Iraq and Afghanistan.

And this fall, like other citizens, they get to make a judgment about the commander-in-chief. President Obama speaks today to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention. Mitt Romney talks there tomorrow. And NPR's Quil Lawrence spoke with veterans in the swing state of Ohio.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: A small summer Bible camp class paid a visit last week to a new veterans' memorial. It's in Clinton, Ohio, a small town surrounded by parched cornfields.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) ...with the cross of Jesus going on before...

LAWRENCE: Flags flap in the baking July breeze above a long, black granite wall. On one side are the 3,000 names of Ohioans who died in the Vietnam War. On the other side, some 300 names of more recent war dead.

Ken Noon engraved the names on the granite.

KEN NOON: Those two young men were - I had to add those two to the stencil before I blasted, so hopefully we won't have to add any more.

LAWRENCE: Noon is an Army Vet who served in the 1980s during peacetime. He's here with Vietnam vet Ray Arnold, another key organizer. The memorial will be officially dedicated next month. They expect politicians will show up then. But Ray Arnold says he's disappointed with the attention veterans have been getting up to now.

RAY ARNOLD: What's that old saying? Talk is cheap, but living up to it's another story.

LAWRENCE: There'll be a lot of talk about veterans between now and Election Day. Five key states have big veteran populations, big enough to swing the election. Obama took all of them in 2008: Virginia, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Ohio. Polls this year indicate a very close race. A Gallup poll in the spring found older veterans favor Romney. Younger veterans also lean Republican, but not by as much.

NICK BORISKA: For my experience, most veterans that I've known in the past have usually swung right.

LAWRENCE: Nick Boriska is a 30-year-old student at John Carroll University, outside of Cleveland. He did a tour with the Army in Afghanistan. He says he's undecided. Romney doesn't have much of a record on veterans' issues, he says. And Boriska gives President Obama a mixed review.

BORISKA: I think President Obama actually has something to hang his hat on as far as ending the War in Iraq. I think that's something that I'm surprised he hasn't touched on more, 'cause it's one thing he did that he said he would do.

LAWRENCE: Not all vets come down on the same side though.

TOM BOGGS: Obama and Biden are trying to get us out of there, save face - please their base.

LAWRENCE: Tim Boggs served in Iraq.

BOGGS: America I think has got in the habits of not winning wars, of trying to find ways to get out of wars without actually having an endgame or winning.

LAWRENCE: So the wind-down of the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, those issues matter to vets.

They also care about the treatment vets get; health care benefits, jobs and the bureaucracy and red tape at the VA. The campaigns have taken notice. The Obama administration has launched a range of initiatives directed at vets. And this month, the Romney campaign announced its own coalition to reach out to veterans.


LAWRENCE: Veterans know the candidates are trying to get their attention. At a bar east of Columbus, a group called Ohio Combat Veterans get together every week, a half-dozen vets around a table drinking beers. Nick Blankenship is one of them. He did three tours as a Marine in Iraq. He's thinks politicians have lost touch with the mainstream.

NICK BLANKENSHIP: You get too many people who - they have too many IOUs to the far right or to the far left, and then it skews their political agenda.

LAWRENCE: Still, he's not sitting out the election.

BLANKENSHIP: Oh, I guarantee I'll vote; which way it'll be I'm not sure.

LAWRENCE: Which is why both candidates, Obama and Romney, are going after the veterans vote, because some of them haven't already made up their minds.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News.


INSKEEP: It's NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.

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