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Ryan clings to guns and religion in Pennsylvania

Casual in khakis and waving a yellow “terrible towel” above his head in honor of the Steelers, Ryan appeared confident and at ease, challenging the president’s health care plan.

After teaming up with Mitt Romney for a joint campaign rally in New Hampshire Monday, newly minted vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) spent Tuesday on his own near Pittsburgh, Pa.

Casual in khakis and waving a yellow “terrible towel” above his head in honor of the Steelers, Ryan appeared confident and at  ease as he spoke to a crowd assembled at a steel plant Tuesday morning.

“Hey, I am a Catholic deer hunter. I am happy to be clinging to my guns and my religion,” Ryan told the crowd, according to Associated Press reports.

The  remark was a jab at Obama, who isolated small-town Pennsylvania as a target of contempt while on the campaign trail in 2008, telling a San Francisco crowd that its residents were small-minded and xenophobic.

“And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” Obama said at the time, according to a Politico transcript.

Ryan also challenged Obama on Medicare Tuesday, telling the crowd that the president’s health plan would eliminate options for many seniors.

He is expected to attend another rally at a helicopter museum in West Chester, Pa. later Tuesday afternoon, and end the day in Philadelphia with a fundraising dinner at the Union League.

With 20 electoral votes, Pennsylvania may be a close second to Florida in terms of importance in the 2012 race. The latest polls show Obama with a sizable lead of 6.5 percentage points over Romney in the state, although that lead has narrowed since last month.

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Hope Hodge first covered military issues for the Daily News of Jacksonville, N.C., where her beat included the sprawling Marine Corps base, Camp Lejeune. During her two years at the paper, she received investigative reporting awards for exposing a former Marine who was using faked military awards to embezzle disability pay from the government and for breaking news about the popularity of the designer drug Spice in the ranks. Her work has also appeared in The American Spectator, New York Sun, WORLD Magazine, and The Washington Post. Hodge was born near Boston, Mass., where she grew up as a lover of Revolutionary War history and fall foliage. She also discovered a love of politics and policy as a grassroots volunteer and activist on Beacon Hill. She graduated in 2009 with a degree in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics from The King's College in New York City, where she served as editor-in-chief of her school newspaper and worked as a teaching assistant when not freelancing or using student discounts to see Broadway shows. Hope??s email is