GOP senators launch tour warning of defense cuts

Three Senate Republicans will embark on a tour of presidential battleground states next week to warn about looming cuts in defense spending.

John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte (AY'-aht) will hold a series of town hall meetings in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire. They will focus on cuts of nearly $500 billion to projected spending over a decade, set to begin Jan. 2 unless Congress finds an alternative.

The states are home to military installations and defense contracting jobs.

Announcement of the tour comes as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a fresh warning Wednesday about the reductions, saying he "sure as hell" hopes they don't happen.

President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans agreed to set up the cuts last year as part of a deficit-reduction plan.