WHEELING - Presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney courted coal interests and brought his message to Wheeling Park's White Palace on Thursday night.
Escorted to the event by local police and Secret Service members, Romney attended a private fundraiser for his campaign hosted by Robert Murray of Murray Energy. Those arriving early for the event at about 4 p.m. waited outside as the Secret Service did a sweep of the building. Romney's motorcade arrived at 5:08 p.m.
Long banquet tables were set up inside the banquet hall at the White Palace, and most seats appeared to be filled. A long receiving line wound around the room as attendees waited to greet Romney.
Photo by Scott McCloskey
Guests line up outside the Wheeling Park White Palace during a Wheeling fundraiser for presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney Thursday. The private event was sponsored by Robert Murray of Murray Energy.
Members of the media were not permitted at the event.
Jon Murray, the son of Robert Murray, said his family was honored to have Romney in the area.
"It's a great message for coal," he said. "It gives us hope for the future in that maybe he can turn the country around."
U.S. Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., asked as he entered the White Palace, "Is the (next) president in the house?"
He noted he was anxious to meet Romney, as the two previously had only spoken on the phone.
"Someday we'll look back on this event as we did when John Kennedy visited Wheeling before he was president," McKinley said. "It's a chance for us to reinforce how important fossil fuels are to this country."
He added that during the primary campaign, he believed Romney's message on coal to be superior to that of his opponent, Pennsylvania native Rick Santorum.
"I told Mitt Romney I will support him, and I am financially doing my part tonight," McKinley said. "He is taking care of miners and the coal industry."
McKinley's son, Wheeling financial planner David H. McKinley, arrived earlier for the event and noted he likes Romney's ideas on the economy.
"He has a sensible approach to economics that is based on reality," the younger McKinley said. "The ideology of the current administration - that the economy should be based on incentives and regulations - is not sustainable."
Christopher Walisiak, a freshman at Ohio University Eastern who is serving his first term as trustee in Wheeling Township in Belmont County, Ohio, is Romney's campaign coordinator in Belmont County.
"It's good to get all the business folk behind him, and get him acquainted with the Ohio Valley," Walisiak said.
Coal companies are cutting back because of the uncertainty surrounding federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations, he added.
Others standing in line waiting said they already supported Romney.
"I've always admired Gov. Romney, and I think he will do a great job for us," said Sharon Johnson of Barnesville, Ohio.
One woman indicated she wanted to learn more about him.
"I just want to hear what he has to say," said Amanda Halter of Martins Ferry, Ohio.