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Romney's focus on energy in Pa. visit

| Monday, April 23, 2012, 8:42 p.m.
Mitt Romney speaks to the crowd at Consol Energy's Research and Development complex in South Park, Monday, April 23, 2012. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Mitt Romney speaks to the crowd at Consol Energy's Research and Development complex in South Park, Monday, April 23rd, 2012. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Mitt Romney speaks to the crowd at Consol Energy's Research and Development complex in South Park, Monday, April 23rd, 2012. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Mitt Romney greets the crowd after speaking at Consol Energy's Research and Development complex in South Park, Monday, April 23rd, 2012. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Mitt Romney greets the crowd after speaking at Consol Energy's Research and Development complex in South Park, Monday, April 23rd, 2012. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Mitt Romney greets the crowd after speaking at Consol Energy's Research and Development complex in South Park, Monday, April 23rd, 2012. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Mitt Romney greets the crowd after speaking at Consol Energy's Research and Development complex in South Park, Monday, April 23, 2012. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Mitt Romney speaks to the crowd at Consol Energy's Research and Development complex in South Park, Monday, April 23rd, 2012. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Mitt Romney speaks to the crowd at Consol Energy's Research and Development complex in South Park, Monday, April 23rd, 2012. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review

The primary took a secondary position to domestic energy production in Mitt Romney's campaign stop in South Park on Monday, giving a hint of a topic that could help the presumptive Republican nominee take votes away from President Obama.

Romney spoke to supporters who included coal miners and engineers at Consol Energy Inc.'s research and development facility before heading to Delaware County, where he visited a female-owned transportation and warehousing business with freshman Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who could help his standing with Hispanics.

At the R&D site -- where Consol researchers over decades have patented technologies advancing coal and gas production -- Romney asked attendees for help at the polls almost as an afterthought, saying as he wrapped up his speech: "I need you guys to go out and vote tomorrow."

Romney took a swipe at the Obama administration's proposed limits on pollution from coal- and gas-fired power plants -- regulations that critics say could raise electricity prices and threaten the use of resources plentiful in Pennsylvania and neighboring states. Romney's energy platform suggests removing the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, and expanding gas and oil leasing in areas where it is prohibited.

Romney said Obama is for "all the sources of energy that come from above the ground -- wind and solar. He just doesn't like the things that come from below the ground."

"That's the course he's on," Romney said. "The course I'll put us on is to take advantage of what comes from above the ground as well as what comes from below the ground, so that America can finally become energy secure and independent of the oil cartel."

A White House spokesman said the president continues to focus attention on expanding domestic energy production, "including oil and natural gas, nuclear power, renewable energy sources like wind and solar, as well as clean coal," as part of a goal to double energy from clean sources by 2035.

State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn of Millvale said the former Massachusetts governor offered "misleading information" about Obama's record.

"It's not surprising that Mitt Romney is launching misleading attacks to hide his horrid record on energy. As governor, Romney raised a gas tax by 400 percent and was an outspoken critic of coal-fired power plants, saying that they 'kill' people," Burn said in an email.

Connecticut, Delaware, New York and Rhode Island also hold presidential primaries today. Although former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas also are on the GOP ballot in Pennsylvania, Romney essentially captured the party nomination this month when Santorum suspended his campaign.

Because he doesn't have to concentrate on Republican primary voters, Romney can work to reach Democrats and independents by talking about issues that matter to all Americans, such as energy, said Dane Strother, a Democratic strategist based in Washington.

"It is an issue that affects everyone," Strother said. "No question Romney can win Democrat and independent voters over on energy, especially coal. When voters think they are being over-regulated and it affects their pocketbooks, either in their electric bill or their jobs, they vote their pocketbook."

T.J. Rooney, Pennsylvania's former Democratic Party chairman, said Obama needs to "strike a better balance" with all of the country's natural resources.

"Right now, it is a problem," said Rooney, noting he's frustrated that he hasn't heard the president talk lately about clean coal as part of his "all-of-the-above" approach to energy production. Obama hasn't mentioned coal in speeches or news conferences since October, the Tribune-Review found in reviewing White House press reports.

"The great equalizer between the candidates is energy prices," said Dave Paleologos, director of Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. "Polling shows the higher energy prices go, the better for Romney."

Romney's message on coal puts the Obama team "on the defense in a state they shouldn't have to defend, which means they are spending resources, time and money there when they should be focusing on Ohio, Nevada and Florida," Paleologos said. In 2008, Obama won 55 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania.

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