He hasn't been here in two months, but Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan stopped in Pittsburgh Saturday -- on his way to campaign in Ohio, a must-win state for the GOP, even if polls show the race narrowing in Pennsylvania.
The 42-year-old Wisconsin congressman, fresh from two days stumping in Florida for his running mate Mitt Romney, arrived waving a "Terrible Towel" before nearly 1,000 people at an airport hangar at Atlantic Aviation in Moon. A block away, Democratic public officials and supporters of President Barack Obama held a news conference to rebut Mr. Ryan's remarks.
In a speech lasting 13 minutes, Mr. Ryan, clad in a casual, red and gray North Face jacket, pounded away at Mr. Obama's record on the economy and energy, claiming the president wasn't "willing to lay out a second-term agenda."
"If he's re-elected we know exactly what the next four years will look like," Mr. Ryan said. "We'll have more of the same failed policies. More taxes, more spending, more debts and four more years of these disastrous energy policies. Look, gas prices are more than double what they were four years ago, who knows what they're going to be if he got four more years.
"We can't keep spending money we just don't have. The choice is, do we limit the size of government or do we limit the growth of our economy?"
Mr. Ryan, whose plane landed right beside the hangar, made a dramatic entrance at 11:12 a.m. as the hangar's huge gate slowly opened to reveal the candidate to the sounds of the crowd chanting, "Here we go Ryan, here we go!"
The candidate was joined by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. -- whom Mr. Ryan called "one of his best friends" in Congress; GOP Senate candidate Tom Smith, who is challenging incumbent Bob Casey; Keith Rothfus, who is trying to unseat Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown; and Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair.
"With the right ideas and the right leadership, we can turn this economy around," Mr. Ryan said. Despite a national jobless rate that dipped to 7.8 percent earlier this month, Mr. Ryan has argued that the economy is slowing, because most of those jobs are temporary and the net increase of 114,000 is less than the 150,000 needed to keep up with population growth.
Pittsburgh Labor Council President Jack Shea, at the nearby Democratic news conference, countered that state manufacturers have added nearly 10,000 jobs in the last 21/2 years. Since 2010, he said, the state's businesses have increased goods exports by 53 percent, including a 39 percent increase in manufacturing exports.
Mr. Romney would completely eliminate U.S. taxes on foreign profits, which one independent economist said would create 800,000 jobs in other countries, including China, added Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, who was also at the Democratic news conference. "It's a throwback to the same top-down policies that sent our jobs to China and helped make Romney a multimillionaire in the first place."
Mr. Ryan also hammered away at energy. In a nod to his audience -- Pennsylvania has the fourth-largest coal industry in the country, employing 52,000 people -- he warned that environmental regulations under Mr. Obama for coal-fired power plants have put thousands out of work.
Mr. Obama would "keep his war on coal going. ... Over a hundred coal plants are scheduled to close, costing us thousands of jobs. Just a month ago we lost 1,200 coal jobs in states like Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia
"Not only do these policies cost us jobs, not only do they mean that American energy dollars go to the Middle East, they are keeping us from having a boom, they are keeping us from having jobs, they are keeping us from making our paychecks stretch farther. ... The good news is none of that's going to happen because we're going to win this election and we're going to turn back on American energy."
Rich Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO and former president of the coal miners union, issued a statement calling Mr. Ryan's claims "baseless," and accused Mr. Romney of flip-flopping on coal issues.
"When he was governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney stood in front of a coal plant and demanded it be closed, saying it 'kills people,' " said Mr. Trumka, adding that in 2003, then Gov. Romney joined other states in a suit that led the Supreme Court to order regulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as pollutants. "He is a political chameleon, saying one thing in Massachusetts and another in Pennsylvania or Ohio."
Nonetheless, Maria Swanson, 40, of Sewickley thought Mr. Ryan's appearance only reinforced a steady message from the Romney campaign: that the economy can grow better with less government. A self-described fiscal conservative, she noted that she's a "none of your business" voter when it comes to social issues -- believing government should stay out of the bedroom. "I guess you could say I'm a Barry Goldwater conservative," she laughed.
Noel Um, 18, a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University, said she came to volunteer at the Ryan rally "because I think it's really important that, as an Asian-American woman, I exercise my right to vote. A lot of people in my demographic don't care, and at my school, a lot of my friends just aren't going to bother. But Obama promised change, and it hasn't happened."
The most recent polls show Mr. Romney behind Mr. Obama by four points in Pennsylvania, which he has visited six times since clinching the nomination in the spring. Despite edging closer in the polls, Mr. Romney hasn't spent money on TV advertising here, and recently moved key staffers out of the Keystone State to Virginia, where he has invested more resources.
The Romney campaign has spent much time and money in Ohio, although the latest Fox News poll shows Mr. Obama with a continued lead of 46 to 43 percent. The president led by seven points a month ago. Nonetheless, the Romney campaign must win Ohio to win the presidency, most experts believe, which is why as soon as his Pittsburgh speech was done, Mr. Ryan hopped on a campaign bus to make the 70-mile trip to Belmont, Ohio -- in that state's coal country.
Mackenzie Carpenter: email@example.com or 412-263-1949. First Published October 21, 2012 4:00 AM