BELMONT, Ohio — Paul Ryan knew his audience, talking up coal and deer hunting as he stood on a rain-soaked hillside in southeast Ohio on Saturday.
“The one thing Belmont County can do, if you head to early voting at the Belmont County Board of Elections ... is elect a man named Mitt Romney who will end this war on coal and allow us to keep these good-paying jobs,” the Republican told the crowd.
Some 1,100 people braved cold rain and wind to hear the man who wants to be the next vice president of the United States talk for fewer than 15 minutes.
“Gas prices have doubled since President Obama was elected,” he said. “We are losing thousands of coal jobs. We have a hundred coal plants scheduled to close, and thousands more jobs are on the chopping block.”
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s strategy to capture the must-win state of Ohio counts on a heavy turnout in largely rural southeast Ohio — coal country. One large sign on the road leading to the Valley View Campgrounds read: “Save Eastern Ohio: Fire Obama.” The words “Eastern Ohio” had been painted over with “USA.”
Most of the region went for Republican John McCain four years ago, but Belmont County was an exception by roughly 900 votes.
The digital national debt tote board and large digital video screen that accompany Mr. Ryan at many of his campaign events seemed out of place next to the large hilltop white-washed barn. The rain seemed to stop just as Mr. Ryan, in a water-resistant jacket, took to the stage. He had country and bluegrass musician Ricky Skaggs as an opening act.
Mr. Ryan repeated Mr. Romney’s promise to make North America energy independent by the end of the decade, pledging to approve construction of the Keystone oil pipeline and to embrace new technologies, such as those expected to produce a natural-gas boom in the region.
“We can unleash this technology boom that will keep American energy dollars in America,” Mr. Ryan said. “That creates good jobs. That creates coal jobs. That creates gas jobs. That creates all-of-the-above jobs, and it creates all the manufacturing jobs that come with it.”
President Obama made his first southeast Ohio visit of this campaign last week, rallying in friendly Democratic territory, Ohio University in Athens, where he went after Mr. Romney’s focus on coal during Tuesday’s second debate.
“The truth is, while he now claims he supports coal, Mitt Romney has been a longtime critic of coal-fired power plants,” Obama spokesman Jessica Kershaw said Saturday. “As governor of Massachusetts, he stood in front of a coal-fired power plant and declared he would not ‘protect jobs that kill people.’
“Under President Obama, employment in Ohio’s coal mining industry is up 11 percent while he’s making historic investments in clean-coal research and development,” she said.
That theme was picked up in a new radio ad in the region financed by the liberal advocacy group Progress Ohio. The organization has filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission against the owner of a local coal mine where Mr. Romney recently rallied with miners, some of whom later complained that they went without pay for that shift because the mine was closed but were still required to attend the rally.
The mine has denied that attendance at the rally was mandatory.
As Mr. Skaggs strummed his banjo for the crowd before Mr. Ryan’s appearance, Karen Green of nearby Bellaire noted the importance of coal to the region.
“My fiance is a coal miner and my son works as a federal mine inspector,” she said. “That provides a lot of employment for the area. If there are layoffs, there wouldn’t be any need for inspectors.”
Mr. Ryan has seemingly become the go-to guy for Ohio. He’s been in Ohio much of the week. Mr. Romney hasn’t been back to the Buckeye State since last weekend, heading instead after his second debate for other battlegrounds, Virginia and Florida.
Both Mr. Romney and his running mate will be back in the region next week at yet-to-be-announced events.
Mr. Obama is expected in Dayton on Tuesday and then back in Cleveland on Thursday night at the close of a two-day bus tour of swing states.
Vice President Joe Biden will be in Ohio Monday through Wednesday, including a stop Tuesday at the University of Toledo.
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.