By Kevin Begos
The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH — Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of about 500 people at a hanger near the Pittsburgh Airport on Saturday, saying the country couldn’t afford “four more years” of the Obama administration’s energy policies and repeatedly mentioning the importance of coal mining, historically a major industry in the region.
“Pennsylvania is going to send Mitt Romney to the White House, isn’t it?” Ryan said, referring to his running mate as he launched into a stump speech that focused on criticizing President Barack Obama’s energy and tax policies.
But Ryan also made questionable claims about energy trends. For example, he said that Obama administration policies are “making us buy more oil from the Middle East.” But U.S. oil production has risen by almost 20 percent since Obama took office, and total oil imports have declined by about the same amount. Natural gas production has increased, too, especially in Pennsylvania.
Ryan made some comments that seemed designed to appeal to western Pennsylvania sensibilities.
“After this election, my daughter’s 10 years old. She gets to shoot her first deer this year,” Ryan said, to applause from the crowd.
One thing that seemed clear at the event was that Romney has won over the Republican base.
“Romney wasn’t my first choice, but I’m really happy with him now, the more I’ve gotten to know him,” said Georgia Kruhm, of nearby Oakdale, who was excited to be at the event. Other people at the event expressed similar thoughts.
Local Democrats questioned the seriousness of Ryan’s visit.
“We have Paul Ryan doing a kind of fly-by today,” said Alleghany County executive Rich Fitzgerald, who made a brief appearance near the Ryan event. Ohio is only about 20 miles away from the Pittsburgh airport.
“For six years, Mitt Romney ran as a severe conservative” but now positions himself as a moderate, Fitzgerald said, adding that Obama administration support for the auto industry “saved a lot of jobs” in western Pennsylvania.
Romney trailed Obama by just 4 percentage points among likely Pennsylvania voters in a Quinnipiac University poll conducted Oct. 12-14. The same pollster showed Obama with a 12-point lead in late September.
But there have been no signs of a new Romney advertising push in Pennsylvania, and the Romney campaign didn’t immediately respond to questions about whether its candidates plan to make more visits to Pennsylvania, or plan to run ads here.
Obama administration spokesman Matt Mittenthal said he didn’t know of any plans for Obama or Vice President Joe Biden to visit Pennsylvania during the last two weeks of the campaign.
But Ryan’s appearance was likely about more than just the presidential race.
Pittsburgh is a strategically important area for the Republican Party. The city’s media market reaches eastern Ohio, a primary battleground state, and heavily populated southwestern Pennsylvania is an area of growing strength for Republicans. Republicans hope to sway the area’s conservative Reagan Democrats, who are turning away from Obama but have not fully embraced Romney.
In addition, a heavily contested race for U.S. House is being waged there by Republican lawyer Keith Rothfus and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Critz.
Ryan visited Pennsylvania once before as the vice-presidential candidate, on Aug. 21.
Obama hasn’t campaigned in Pennsylvania since June, and Biden, like Romney, last campaigned in the state in September.
By Kevin Begos
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