Salena Zito

“Most of you are going to do just fine whether I’m elected or not,” Romney told donors in the opulent banquet room, where four displays of red, white and blue star-shaped balloons floated beneath four large chandeliers. “People at the very high end are going to find a way to do fine. It’s the middle class that’s going to suffer if the president is re-elected.”

Romney told rally-goers that the health care system is unaffordable for many and needs to be reformed. “But Obamacare is not the answer, and we have to replace it.”

He drew cheers from the crowd in North Huntingdon by criticizing Obama energy policies which, Romney said, restrict the coal and natural gas industries that supply many of the region’s jobs.

State Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, introduced Romney at the rally.

“Although Westmoreland County has more registered Democrats, last fall, for the first time since 1956, they elected two Republican county commissioners, and a majority of the row officers,” Ward said. “It takes a team to make this happen, and we need all of your help.”

Obama lost Westmoreland County by nearly 17 percentage points to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in 2008.

Though Pennsylvania as a whole hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, Romney’s visit occurs less than two weeks after Obama rallied thousands of supporters at Carnegie Mellon University.

“People ask me, ‘Can a Republican really win Pennsylvania?’ I hate to say it, but, ‘Duh,’” Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who was elected in 2010, said during his brief introduction of Romney at the Duquesne Club Among the crowd at the fundraiser were state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai of Bradford Woods, House Speaker Sam Smith of Punxsutawney, congressional candidate Keith Rothfus of Edgeworth and U.S. Senate candidate Tom Smith of Armstrong County.

Hammering Obama’s energy policy could solidify support among Western Pennsylvania voters who have been trending Republican in recent elections, said Lara Brown, political science professor at Villanova University.

“His message on energy prospects can gain him support of both blue- and white-collar voters who are dissatisfied with the president’s policies,” she said.

Steve Dancisin, 70, and wife, Kathi, of North Huntingdon, rushed from serving Meals On Wheels to hear the candidate at the rally.

“I’m really glad I came to hear him. I mostly voted Democrat my whole life — except in the last election. I voted for Ronald Reagan, too, but I’m voting for Mitt this year,” Dancisin said. “This guy has at least had a job in the private sector.”

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.