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Vets Not Sure Whether To Bet On Obama

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President Barack Obama, right, is greeted by Jimmie Foster, national commander of the American Legion prior to Obama's address to its national convention, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

One group hit hardest by the struggling economy is U.S. veterans, who deal with recovering from injuries, trying to find employment when their military service is over and a high home foreclosure rate.

But there's a presidential election coming up in just over a year and veterans are a large voting body, which might be one reason why President Obama chose to speak Tuesday at the American Legion's 93rd National Convention in Minneapolis.

His speech in Minneapolis comes on the heels of complaints by the Veterans of Foreign Wars that the White House declined to send a top level speaker to its convention in San Antonio this week. Vice President Biden spoke there last year and President Obama attended in 2009.

In the prepared speech before nearly five thousand legionnaires, Obama addressed veteran concerns, and got polite applause on several occasions. The loudest reaction came after the president vowed not to "balance the budget on the backs of veterans" and then proposed tax credits for businesses that hire vets to "make sure the private sector is hiring our talented veterans."

Legion members say any politician that wants the veteran vote these days has got to talk about job growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the unemployment rate nationally among all vets is at 8.6 percent, which is up a bit from last year.

While Legion members said they appreciated the promises made in the president's speech and that Obama told them everything they wanted to hear, actions will speak louder than words.

"He's a politician so you got to see how it comes out in the wash" said Vietnam veteran Donald Painter, who didn't vote for Obama in 2008. "This is an election year. There are a lot of false promises made in election years. We've heard it all before, I'm very skeptical" he said.

"I believe his heart is in everything he said, but saying it is one thing and getting it through Congress is another" said Korean veteran John Gasper, who said he didn't know how he would vote next year. He added that Tuesday's speech didn't help him make up his mind one way or the other.

As a group, veterans have historically leaned more often for a Republican candidate than a Democrat, but the margin between those who identify themselves as Republicans or Democrats is pretty tight. In 2008, vets favored John McCain over Barack Obama by a ten point margin, according to Gallup polling. That number is a smaller margin than many had expected, due to the fact that McCain himself is a vet. It's also slightly less support than George W. Bush got in 2004.

"The president's speech was right on time. It's about time he decided to approach us" said Gulf War veteran Patricia Harris, who voted for Obama in 2008 and plans to support him again in 2012. When asked if she thought more of her fellow legionnaires were leaning toward voting for Obama these days she said "I don't think so but I hope so."

Also vying for attention in Minneapolis Tuesday morning were a couple of different groups staging small protests outside the city's convention center, where the president was speaking.

Anti war activists, who in a press release said they were connected to "The Minnesota Committee to Stop FBI Repression" claimed their motivation to protest was sparked after "several Twin Cities homes and the offices of the Anti War Committee were raided by the FBI as part of the Department of Justice attack on anti war activists".

Another group calling itself "Tar Sands Pipeline Opponents" claimed in its press release to have a 20-foot banner that read "Pres. Obama, Yes You Can Stop the Tar Sands XL Pipeline." Neither protest seemed to have any effect on the convention or the President's speech.

The convention did attract a couple of celebrity speakers. The master of ceremonies was Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger, who is the real life "Rudy" that inspired the movie of the same name, about a kid who struggled to play football at Notre Dame. Miss America 2011, Teresa Scanlan, who is not a veteran, but said her grandfather fought in World War II, gave a speech about following "The American Dream." In reaction to the president's speech, Scanlan smiled, stuck to political correctness and said "I believe the President meant everything he said today and I appreciate his comments about vets."

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