BEALLSVILLE, OH -- Mitt Romney accused President Obama of declaring a "war on coal" here in the heart of eastern Ohio's mining territory.
Flanked by an army of miners and their families near the border with West Virginia, the presumptive GOP nominee said Obama was being deceptive about his policies toward fossil fuel. In this energy-rich and politically important part of the state, Romney renewed his call for achieving energy independence by the end of his second term.
"This is a time for truth. If you don’t believe in coal, if you don’t believe in energy independence for America then say it," Romney said. "If you believe that the whole answer for our energy needs is wind and solar why say that. Because I know he says that to some audiences out west. But it’s time to tell the people of America what you believe."
The Obama campaign pushed back against the charge from Romney, accusing him of ignoring his own record of pushing for tighter emissions regulations on coal power plants as Governor of Massachusetts.
“Only one candidate in this race actually has a record of finding a clean future for coal and that’s President Obama. 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," Obama spokesperson Lis Smith said in a statement. "This stands in stark contrast to Mitt Romney, who, as governor of Massachusetts, spoke out against coal jobs and said that a coal-fired plant 'kills people.' This is just another issue where Mitt Romney is not being honest with the American people”
Obama spoke simultaneously in Iowa about wind power, putting energy production in Tuesday's campaign spotlight.
Romney asked supporters to focus on the president's policies and ignore the rhetoric, even while ratcheting up his own words toward the president in an effort to win support from the mostly white, blue-collar community here -- a hotly contested demographic whose support could decide this critical swing state.
"He said if he’s elected president and his policies get put in place the cost of energy would skyrocket. That’s one [promise] he’s kept. He also said you can go out and build a new coal plant if you want but if you do you’ll go bankrupt. That’s another promise he’s intent on keeping," Romney said. "His vice president said coal is more dangerous than terrorists. Can you imagine that?" Romney asked the crowd, many of whom booed in response.
To that end, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who until last week was considered by many political observers a favorite to be selected as Romney's vice president, introduced the GOP contender here in what he said looked like "Romney country" and played up the rural background of Romney's running mate Paul Ryan, a hunter and fisherman who he called "smart," "articulate," and "a Midwesterner who shares our values."
Romney concluded his remarks here with a rare call-to-action, urging the coal miners here in attendance to spark a conversation with their friends and colleagues and ask them to support the Republican ticket.
"I want you to use your own words to convince one person," Romney asked. "If you could do that every day I would win, but if you could just do it once a month I'd probably win as well. This is a place where we can spread out the message that you're hearing today and say you know what? America is back."