Romney kicks off PA campaign with tele town hall

That rumble of cannon you hear in the distance means that the fight for the Republican presidential nomination is coming to Pennsylvania.

Mitt Romney held a telephone town hall with thousands of Pennsylvania GOP voters Wednesday evening, as a new poll showed that support for his chief rival, Rick Santorum, was plummeting in the state he had represented for 16 years in Congress.

During his 33 minute phone call, Romney attacked President Obama over the high price of gas, saying in response to a question that the incumbent was not committed to full exploitation of the nation’s natural resources and wants higher energy costs to force conservation. The president, Romney said, “is not committed to the fossil fuels that drive our economy.”

And a Franklin & Marshall College Poll released Wednesday showed Santorum losing ground to Romney in the state. Santorum was leading Romney among Pennsylvania Republicans, 30 percent to 28 percent, the poll found – compared to a 45 percent to 16 percent lead in the college’s February survey.

Pollster Terry Madonna said the findings reflected controversy over Santorum’s recent focus on social issues, including the immorality of contraception, when most state Republicans are concerned most about the economy. Still, 24 percent said they were undecided in the upcoming April 24 primary.

In response to another question, Romney blasted Obama’s remarks to the Russian president, caught on a live microphone at a summit in South Korea, that he would have more “flexibility” to negotiate on limits on missile-defense systems “after the election.”  He accused Obama of “doing Russia’s bidding” by removing components of anti-missile defense systems from Alaska and Poland.

“We should develop a very extensive, robust missile defense system,” Romney said. “Protecting ourselves from some rogue attack has got to be a priority.”

Asked to contrast himself with Santorum, Romney said, “The most fund difference is that I did not spend my life in Washington.  I spent my life in the private economy.”

Romney's campaign has also opened a state office in Harrisburg, and some Republicans have reported receiving robo-calls from the campaign that criticize Santorum's support for increased federal spending when he represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate, before losing reelection in 2006 by 17 percentage points.