BEALLSVILLE - Speaking to a supportive crowd of more than 2,000 Massey Energy Co. coal miners and employees and their friends and family, presidential candidate Mitt Romney knew he already had a lot of their votes.
So he asked them to help him get more.
"I'd like you to commit to look around your neighborhood and your place of work (and) convince one person to vote for our ticket," the presumptive GOP presidential nominee told the crowd at Century Mine in Belmont County, a few miles north of Beallsville.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, left, talks with Murray Energy Co. administrative assistant Dena Milhoan, of Belmont, Tuesday after addressing a rally of coal miners, mine employees and their friends and family at the Century Mine near Beallsville.
The mine, which employs more than 600 people, was the first of three stops for Romney in southeast Ohio Tuesday, providing him an opportunity to criticize President Barack Obama's approach on energy, including regulations he says are hurting the coal industry. The former Massachusetts governor said he would emphasize using the resources America has, including coal.
"We have 250 years worth of coal. Why in the heck wouldn't we use it?" he said.
Romney said taking advantage of domestic energy resources was one of five things he planned to do as president to turn the economy around. He pledged that - should he be elected and re-elected - North America would be energy independent by the end of his second term.
Romney has star status in Beallsville
By Evan Bevins
The Marietta Times
BEALLSVILLE - It's not every day a presidential candidate makes a stop in rural Ohio.
"I think it's really neat that he came out to see us in rural America, out in the country," said Sarah Kneitzer, a 27-year-old Belmont County resident who works as a hydrogeologist at Century Mine, where GOP nominee Mitt Romney spoke Tuesday.
The crowd of Murray Energy Co. employees, their friends and families and other supporters seemed just as excited by Romney's message as by the opportunity to see a presidential candidate in person.
"How often do you get to see a guy like this?" said 20-year-old St. Clairsville resident Jamie Garbash, an intern at the mine, before adding, "Our jobs are kind of in his hands right now.'
"We're hoping we see our next president," said her father Ed Garbash, 48, who took a vacation day from work to come to the event.
Ron Burdette, chief engineer at the mine, said workers were excited about Romney's visit as well.
"They all understand their jobs are on the line," he said.
Burdette and other mine employees said they favored Romney's energy policies over President Obama's, which they believe are harmful to the coal industry.
"It's great to have somebody supporting coal and energy ... showing a little respect for the low-cost energy coal has provided over the years and will continue to provide," he said.
The visit was an expensive proposition for the mine, which had to shut down and empty its buildings Tuesday morning for security purposes in anticipation of Romney's arrival. Burdette said it was worth it though, to bring the candidate to the area and support him.
Children in attendance shared their parents' enthusiasm for the event.
Twelve-year-old Isabella Freeland of Toronto, Ohio, said her father, Jason, has been working in the mines for nine years and her stepfather and grandparents worked in the industry as well. She said she wanted to see Romney "because he wants coal" and her family relies on it to make a living.
On Ohio 145 at the entrance to the mine, Brad Thornberry and members of his family waved American flags and Romney placards at cars and arriving guests. Thornberry's grandson, 11-year-old Mason Hoffman, didn't see Romney himself but got a look at his bus and had his picture taken with Secret Service agents.
"It was good," Huffman said.
Thornberry said his family took up their positions around 10 a.m., two-and-a-half hours before Romney was scheduled to speak.
"It was a pretty good spectacle," he said.
Thornberry is a retired union carpenter, but despite unions' traditional support of Democratic candidates like Obama, he's backing Romney.
"I support unions, but you can't support unions if they run all the business out of the country," he said.
Connie Louden, a friend of the family, said Romney's visit was a special occasion, no matter a person's political affiliation.
"It's exciting to have Romney here whether you support him or not," she said.
Conor Morris contributed.
"We won't have to buy oil from Venezuela and the Middle East," he said.
The other points Romney emphasized were improving the educational system to make sure children have the skills they need to succeed, continuing international trade but in a way that benefits the U.S. and punishes countries who use unfair practices, stopping the spending of more than the government takes in and "champion(ing) small businesses" by keeping taxes low and repealing and replacing Obama's signature health care law. That last goal includes returning money moved from the Medicare trust fund to pay for health care initiatives.
"If I'm president of the United States, we're putting the $716 billion back," Romney said.
Romney also recalled Obama's assertion that a person who built a business had help from the government, by comparing those business owners to a child driven to school on a bus.
"If the kid gets the honor roll, we congratulate the kid, not the bus driver," he said.
Romney's remarks, especially on coal, often drew applause from the crowd, which included employees from other Murray mines and operations bused in for the occasion. He said among the few campaign promises Obama has kept was a statement that he would make it too expensive for companies to build new coal-fired power plants.
"He's a coal supporter and we're here to support coal and (protect) jobs in the valley," said Sardis resident Katrinka During, 50, a senior accountant with Murray Energy Co., which owns the mine.
Durig brought her father, 80-year-old Vernon Bolen, with her to Tuesday's rally.
"I've been a registered Democrat all my life, but I'm voting Republican now," Bolen said. "The past four years has changed my mind."
Romney appeared on a stage in front of more than 100 Century miners who had ended their shift that morning. Many still had coal dust clinging to their faces and clothes.
"This is for a good cause," said Shadyside resident Mike Jarrett, 36, a nearly 10-year employee at Century who had worked underground Tuesday morning. "Solar, wind power, it's just not enough. (Coal is) low-cost, it's sufficient and it's abundant. It employs a lot of people for very good jobs."
Jarrett said he believes Romney would bring more and better jobs to the nation as president and said it doesn't seem like Obama "supports coal at all."
Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, said Environmental Protection Agency regulations implemented under Obama's watch have made it more expensive and difficult for coal-fired power plants to operate and for new ones to be built. For example, restrictions on burning high-sulfur coal means people have to bring in other coal from farther away, increasing their costs, he said.
"There's a disconnect between the White House and what southeast Ohio and Ohio need," Thompson said.
Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray has said another example is a move to limit heat-trapping pollution from new plants, making it difficult to build any new coal-fired plants.
The day before Romney's swing through the region, former Congressman Zach Space spoke to reporters on a conference call, defending Obama's record on coal and questioning Romney's.
"President Obama has made historic investments in clean coal technology and has taken important steps to keep miners safe," Space said. "Under the president's stewardship, in Ohio both the number of coal mining jobs and overall production have increased since he took office. As a result, there are more than 3,000 coal mining jobs in Ohio and more than 90,000 coal mining jobs across the country."
Romney disputed those claims Tuesday, calling them untrue.
"(Obama) talks about how wonderful it is and how we're adding jobs in the coal industry and adding more coal," Romney said. "I thought, you know, how in the world can you go out there and just tell people things that aren't true."
Ron Burdette, chief engineer at Century, said regulations supported by Obama have decreased demand for coal, which has caused at least one of Murray's competitors to file for bankruptcy. While there haven't been a lot of day-to-day changes at the Century mine, Murray recently announced it was closing a mine near Brilliant, citing Obama's policies as the primary reason. Thirty-two employees will be moved to other Murray sites and 24 lost their jobs outright.
Dave Washinsky, mining engineer for Murray Energy since 1998, said coal demand would improve if industry in the country was stronger.
"The biggest problem here with industry in the United States is uncertainty," he said. "We don't know when the next big environmental law down the road is."
Romney was introduced by Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, believed to be on Romney's short list of running mate choices before Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan was announced over the weekend. Portman praised Romney's selection of Ryan.
"He's a Midwesterner who shares our values," he said.
Conor Morris and the Associated Press contributed.