NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan began a two-day push-back in Virginia Tuesday, trying to stop a Republican slide in two statewide polls in the past week by hammering President Barack Obama over job losses and energy policy.
The Wisconsin congressman addressed a standing-room-only crowd of about 1,700 roaring conservatives at Christopher Newport University, then headed 200 miles to the west to try it again early Wednesday in Danville, a once-thriving tobacco and textile town that has fallen on hard times during the past 20 years.
Ryan took advantage of the day's headlines to capitalize on the stagnant economy, an issue that remains a burden for Obama. Alpha Natural Resources on Tuesday disclosed that it is closing mines and eliminating 1,200 jobs in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Ryan blamed what he called Obama's "war on coal" on the Environmental Protection Agency.
"The Obama administration's hostility toward coal, toward American energy independence is going to go, and the date it's going to go is Nov. 6, 2012," Ryan said.
Forsaking coal has made the nation more dependent on oil from hostile nations in the Middle East, Ryan said. The Republican also alleged that Obama showed weakness abroad last week in dealing with riots against the U.S. embassy in Egypt and the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans at an American consulate in Libya.
"Anybody, whether it's an adversary who wants to test us or an ally who needs to depend on us, will know that that is a strong America with an unrivaled military," Ryan said.
He blamed the president for deep, automatic defense cuts due in January unless a deeply divided Congress can reach a bipartisan accord on reducing the $16 trillion federal debt in the next 3½ months.
"When we're complicit with these devastating defense cuts, we show weakness," Ryan said, a remark targeted to the region's large population of active-duty and retired military.
He referred to a deal Congress and the White House reached in August 2011 to raise the nation's debt ceiling in exchange for a deficit reduction agreement by a congressional super-committee. An incentive for Congress to act prescribes wrenching across-the-board cuts to military and domestic spending at the start of 2013. Ryan never mentioned that he voted for the 2011 budget-control legislation and, as chairman of the House Budget Committee, advocated for its passage on the House floor.
Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney have stayed focused on Hampton Roads, a swing area made up of major cities such as Norfolk and Virginia Beach, blue-collar heavy manufacturing at a shipyard in Newport News and the world's largest U.S. Navy base. It's a political melting pot that Obama won four years ago, assuring him the 13 electoral votes that clenched his victory. Romney introduced Ryan as his running mate last month in Norfolk.
Ryan's Virginia visits Tuesday and Wednesday come amid a difficult stretch for the GOP ticket.
A Marist College poll last week showed Obama with a slight lead: 49 percent to 44 percent for Romney with 5 percent undecided. The poll of 996 likely voters had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
On Tuesday, a Washington Post poll of 847 likely voters showed Obama ahead by 8 percentage points: 52 percent to Romney's 44 percent with 4 percent undecided. The poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Romney has seen his numbers sink in the three weeks since the GOP convention, which ended with actor Clint Eastwood's bizarre routine with a chair prior to the candidate's acceptance speech.
The former Massachusetts governor was panned for critical comments he made last week after violent attacks on U.S. embassies in Arab countries. And this week, video surreptitiously shot at a private Romney fundraiser captured him saying 47 percent of Americans would never support him because they're dependent on government benefits.
In Newport News, supporters seemed more annoyed by the recent run of bad headlines than worried about it. For Larry Richards, it only stiffened his resolve.
"The things (Romney) said the other day about the uprisings in the Middle East? That didn't upset me. I think he was right," Richards said.
He said he felt the same way about the secretly videotaped "47 percent" comments. "What he said was true. I think maybe he hasn't been very good about how he said it," he said.
A few in the crowd, however, were undecided, particularly some CNU students who dropped in to observe national politics firsthand. For William Morgan-Palmer, an 18-year-old freshman political science major from Chantilly, Va., this will be his first election. And while he said he's leaning toward Obama, he wants to see the presidential debates before finalizing his decision.
As a student attending college on federal student loans, he said Romney's covertly recorded comments were insulting to a wide swath of Americans that includes him.
"I was really shocked at the video. I just heard about it and saw it this morning," Morgan-Palmer said. He considers his student loan "a long-term investment, not short-term dependency. I intend to pay that loan back and build my future on it."