Romney rallies miners, supporters in Ohio
ZANESVILLE, Ohio — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney rallied supporters in this bellwether state on Tuesday by chastising President Obama for policies that cripple America's energy industry and the families and small businesses whose livelihoods depend on fuel producers.
“His vice president said coal is more dangerous than terrorists. Can you imagine that?” Romney told a cheering crowd of about 2,600 people in the village of Beallsville, where 70 miners from American Energy Corp.'s Century Mine joined him onstage. “This tells you precisely what he actually feels and what he's done, and his policies over the last three-and-a-half years have put in place the very vision he had when he was running for office.”
Romney said he and mine owner Bob Murray, whose Cleveland-based Murray Energy Corp. digs 60 percent of the state's coal, listened to an Obama campaign ad on the car radio, in which the president said he supports “clean coal.” Yet, Obama tells audiences in Western states that he supports only energy resources that come from aboveground, Romney said.
“I thought, how in the world can you go out there and tell people things that just aren't true?” he said. “If you believe the whole answer for energy needs is wind and solar, then say that.”
The Obama campaign countered that Romney's attacks are misleading.
“President Obama has increased investments in the research and development of clean coal technology, and employment in the mining industry hit a 15-year high in 2011,” the campaign said in a statement. “This record stands in stark contrast to Mitt Romney's. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney spoke out against coal jobs, saying that a coal-fired plant ‘kills people.' ”
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who was on Romney's short list for vice president, accompanied him on the small-town visits that concluded with a rally in Chillicothe. The junior senator from suburban Cincinnati could help deliver votes in Ohio, without which no Republican has won the presidency.
“Ohio could end up being the state that makes the difference, as we did in two out of the last three presidential elections,” Portman told the Tribune-Review. “Ohioans are frustrated by the economy and nervous about the future.”
Romney's running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, campaigned in the battleground states of Nevada and Colorado and plans to visit Canton and Youngstown, Ohio, on Thursday.
Romney asked supporters to persuade their neighbors to vote for the newly built team.
“We are going to rebuild the middle class in America,” he said. “We are tired of being tired.”
More than jobs are at stake for people who consider oil and coal “matters of priorities and values,” said Curt Nichols, a political science professor at Baylor University in Texas.
“Ohioans think of themselves as explorers and inventors, and have come to question the priorities of decision-makers in Washington when they aren't allowed to reap the natural harvest under their feet,” Nichols said. “How much of this dissatisfaction can be turned into votes for Romney depends on the degree to which Romney can establish himself as the champion of these swing voters and their cause.
“They want to know: Will Romney fight for them, and if they place their faith in him, is he going to be a winner?”
At Tom's Ice Cream Bowl, a Zanesville mainstay since 1948, Romney delighted owners Bill and Patricia Sullivan by eating two cups of White House-flavored ice cream. He told several dozen business owners who came to talk about the lagging economic recovery that tapping natural resources is only part of his plan to strengthen the middle class.
America needs to improve its education system, open trade for U.S. goods, cut spending and the deficit, and champion small businesses, he said.
Bill Sullivan, 62, who makes the diner's specialty ice cream, changed his registration from Democrat to Republican so he could vote in April's GOP primary. Then, Sullivan liked former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum; now he'll support Romney — though he concedes it's risky for a businessman to make public his politics.
“Sometimes you have to put your choice out there and take that risk ,” Sullivan said. “The stakes are too high, and we are hurting out here.”
Kelly Moore, 52, who owns four NAPA Auto Parts stores with husband Gregg, worries that proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations on the power industry will trickle down to affect businesses. She questions whether the Obama administration understands that.
“They don't understand our lack of stability. If coal mines stop production, then coal trucks stop delivering, which in turn affects mom-and-pop shops, grocery stores, tax bases, school budgets,” Moore said. “Everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
Nichols said Ohio's ethnic composition — 83 percent white, 12 percent black — presents “not altogether unfriendly demographics for Republicans, considering white approval of President Obama has collapsed to about 37 percent nationally.” But he noted that Romney underperforms with these dissatisfied voters, some of whom indicated in recent polling they still intend to vote for Obama.
“(Romney) has to improve those numbers in Ohio to win,” Nichols said.
Voters in 13 of Ohio's 18 congressional districts elected Republican representatives in 2010. Ohio is losing two House seats and will have 18 electors for president. The state has voted with the winner of the past 10 presidential elections and has not given electoral votes to the loser since 1960.
Salena Zito is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7879 or firstname.lastname@example.org.