Ryan hits the campaign trail as Romney prepares for final debate

October 20, 2012

Updated 7:40 p.m. Saturday

MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- Stoking speculation about whether Republicans may seek to make an 11th-hour play in this long-Democratic state, GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan on Saturday headlined a brief, hastily scheduled rally in an airport hangar here on his way to an event in eastern Ohio.

Addressing an enthusiastic group of about 800 supporters, many of whom got word of the rally only on Friday night, Ryan told the crowd that President Obama is waging a "war on coal" and cast the decision facing the country as one that will have consequences beyond the next four years.

"This is not just a paycheck election," said Ryan, who wore a red-and-black jacket. "This is not just an election about growing the economy or about giving our kids a debt-free nation. This is about the meaning of America."

The stop is only Ryan's second in Pennsylvania since he became Mitt Romney's running mate in August. His last visit to the Keystone State was on Aug. 21, when he held rallies in Carnegie and West Chester and raised campaign cash in Philadelphia.

Several recent polls have suggested that Romney may be narrowing the gap in Pennsylvania, a state where the auto bailout -- and Obama's hammering of Romney on the issue -- may not loom as large to voters as it does in neighboring Ohio. And in addition to Ryan, Romney's wife, Ann, has also visited the state in recent days.

Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said that Pennsylvania is "a competitive state that we're keeping our eye on."

"Public opinion polls show tht the race is moving in Governor Romney's direction, as it is in other battleground states, and we're keeping a vigorous on-the-ground presence there," he said.

The Romney campaign has more than 60 staffers on the ground in Pennsylvania and has already surpassed the number of voter contacts it made in the state four years ago, according to a campaign official not authorized to speak on the record.

One factor allowing the Romney campaign some flexibility in deciding whether or not to devote more resources to the state: the vast majority of Pennylvanians vote on Election Day.

Ryan was introduced at Saturday's event by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), a former House colleague who won election to the Senate in the 2010 tea party wave and who predicted a Romney-Ryan victory in November, and Tom Smith, the Republican nominee who is aiming to unseat Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) on Nov. 6. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed the race within the margin of error, following months of polls that showed Casey leading by a wide margin.

Even so, the Romney campaign has not been airing TV ads in Pennsylvania and is not reported to be building up a significant ground operation in the state; on top of that, the Pittsburgh-area media market visited by Ryan on Saturday is one that extends into parts of eastern Ohio, as well.

Pennsylvania has voted for a Democrat for president in each of the past five general elections.

Patrick Mullins, a 39-year-old history professor at Marymount University, attended the Ryan rally in Moon Township with his family. He said he thought the GOP vice presidential nominee "electrified" members of the crowd, many of whom were wondering whether he might not show up since the rally was about 45 minutes late getting underway.

"I think it suggests that the Romney-Ryan campaign can still flip Pennsylvania," he said of the candidate's visit.

Ryan's trip came as Obama and Romney were taking some time off the trail this weekend to prepare for their final debate, leaving to their running mates and spouses the task of wooing voters in battleground states.

Ryan spent the past few days campaigning in deep red parts of Florida, but Saturday's events brought him to territory that is more politically divided: Belmont County, where his Saturday afternoon event was held, went for Obama by just 859 votes in 2008 out of more than 31,000 cast.

With Romney off the road for debate preparations, as well as a Florida fundraiser Saturday afternoon, Ryan has a busy weekend of campaigning scheduled. After his events in Pennsylvania and Ohio, he heads east for a fundraiser in Short Hill, N.J., then west to Omaha, Neb. On Sunday, he is expected to headline events in Council Bluffs and Sioux City, Iowa.

Obama, meanwhile, is ensconced at Camp David for the weekend, ahead of Monday's foreign policy debate in Boca Raton, Fla. In his stead, Vice President Biden is rallying supporters on Saturday in St. Augustine, Fla.

Paul Kane contributed to this report.

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