WENTYNINE PALMS On Monday, six hours before the final presidential debate began, Danielle Wagner was rushing from class at the Copper Mountain College campus to get home to say goodbye to her husband. Again.
"He leaves today, actually," said Wagner, who is 21 and married to a six-year Marine veteran heading off on his third deployment, this time to Afghanistan. She will remain home, raising their 1-year-old child.
Like many in this Mojave Desert military town 50 miles northeast of Palm Springs, Wagner exudes support for the U.S. military. Her gray T-shirt says "Marines" in big black letters; her SUV bears a "Marine Wife" sticker.
And, like most people whose lives depend on Pentagon spending, she has paid close attention to the presidential election, especially when it comes to what President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have to say about the military.
"I'm leaning toward Romney right now," Wagner said. "What I've seen so far of the debates, I like more of what Romney has had to say, his approach to stuff compared to Obama.
"And, honestly, the last four years Obama has not done anything that I've noticed. It's just gotten worse."
A few miles away, at a food pantry for needy families, Joe Matoush has a different view.
"If they really look at it, Obama's the better candidate," said Matoush, a 64-year-old Navy veteran who spent 20 years serving as a chaplain for Marine units. "To fall for a 'President Romney' isn't going to create 1 million jobs."
Their different takes stem largely from what each side believes about the other's views on military spending.
U.S. defense spending in the current fiscal year is about $520 billion, roughly the same as last year. As it stands, automatic budget cuts hammered out in Congress are scheduled to commence next year to trim up to $500 billion in Pentagon spending over the next decade. Political leaders are hoping for a bipartisan compromise to avert those cuts.
Romney has accused Obama of cutting Pentagon spending to the point that the military has been weakened. He has called for increased spending that includes a plan for building 15 new warships a year, including three submarines.
The president attacks Romney's positions as outdated, accusing him of pushing what would amount to a $2 trillion increase in defense spending that the Pentagon doesn't need or want.
Obama says Romney has yet to explain where he would find that money; the president says his own policies, by contrast, are forging a more efficient and modern military.
The two also have bickered over the policy in Afghanistan, with the president moving to pull all troops out by the end of 2014. Romney says Obama never should have publicized the withdrawal timeline, although at last week's debate he indicated that he also expected a pullout by the end of 2014.
Fewer Marines expected
In Twentynine Palms, home to the sprawling Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, where virtually all Marines train before heading to Afghanistan, voters on both sides of the debate hold strong views. As part of Obama's planned pullout, the Defense Department is moving to draw down the size of the Marine Corps from about 202,000 active duty members to 182,100.
Wagner worries that less spending on the military could make it more difficult for her husband and other Marines who want to make a career of serving in the Corps. In the past, re-enlistments were routine for Marines who wanted to stay in. But because of reductions in the size of the Corps, officials are being more selective.