Pennsylvania’s coal and natural gas industries and the jobs they generate—key issues to the state's voters—were on the mind of GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan during a campaign rally Saturday in Moon Township.
“He'll keep his war on coal going," Ryan said of his ticket's opponent, President Barack Obama, in an appearance before several hundred supporters who gathered in the Atlantic Aviation hangar on Horizon Drive, near Pittsburgh International Airport.
"Not only are these policies wrong, they are keeping us from having a boom," Ryan said. "They are keeping us from having jobs."
Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin tapped to run alongside former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on the Republican ticket, spent much of his brief speech on the attack against the Democratic president, often referencing what he described as failed energy policies from the Obama administration.
“When Mitt Romney is elected, he will say to those people on the Keystone Pipeline, 'Yes you can build that,' ” Ryan said. “We can make North American energy independent by the end of the decade.”
Ryan, who last visited Western Pennsylvania in August, arrived at the hangar in a campaign plane emblazoned with the slogan "Believe in America." He was greeted by campaign supporters swinging yellow "Romney-Ryan" towels, similar to the "Terrible Towels" traditional gripped by Pittsburgh Steelers fans.
Campaign officials said he is slated to appear later Saturday in Ohio after wrapping up his brief appearance in Moon Township.
Shortly before the Ryan rally got underway, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and other local Democratic officials held their own news conference nearby on Lindbergh Drive in Moon to support the Obama re-election campaign and counter the GOP event.
Ryan's stop in Western Pennsylvania comes as recent polling indicates a narrowing lead for Obama in Pennsylvania: The latest Quinnipiac University Poll shows the president with just a four-point advantage over Romney in the state.
Looking to further shrink that gap, officials from the Romney campaign said Ryan’s appearance in Moon Township was the cornerstone of a larger effort to mobilize supporters in the region as the election nears.
They call it “the Pennsylvania crush,” said John Gibson, Romney’s Pennsylvania campaign manager.
Romney campaign volunteers will spend the weekend canvassing across the state—knocking on several hundred thousand doors and aiming to galvanize undecided voters who are concerned about stagnant job growth.
The effort mirrors the type of grassroots campaigning championed by the Obama campaign in 2008, Gibson said.
“In 2008 (the Obama campaign) really focused on door-to-door campaigning,” Gibson said. “I don’t think you really see that narrative anymore. But we're focusing on it now.”
Gibson said the campaign hopes to reach blue-collar Democrats in southwestern Pennsylvania who may have become disenchanted with policies emanating from the White House.
One Romney supporter, Jeff Polana of Freeport, said his support for the GOP ticket stems from concern about the economy.
"It's all economics," said Polana, as he waited for Ryan to take the stage. "We need a businessman in the White House."
Billy Pitman, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said the campaign sees potential to reach Democrats in the “energy corridor” of southwestern Pennsylvania, with its burgeoning natural gas industry.
“Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania are hugely important,” Pittman said. “They’re fed up with the war on coal. Then you have the Marcellus shale gas industry that’s growing.
"You have people who are just tired of the current administration and its policies.”
U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, who faces his own challenge to maintain his seat against Washington County Democrat Larry Maggi, also focused on energy during a brief speech. Murphy was one of several regional GOP officials and candidates to attend the event.
“You know the drill,” Murphy told the crowd. “You know what happened to energy and you know what happened to jobs (during the Obama administration).”
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