Republican National Chairman Michael Steele said Tuesday that Pennsylvania was "an important battleground, a line in the sand" in the GOP's campaign to retake control of Congress in the midterm elections this fall.

Steele was speaking at a rally attended by 150 Republican activists in Blue Bell, joined on stage by the party's U.S. Senate candidate, Pat Toomey; lieutenant governor nominee, Jim Cawley; and eight GOP candidates for the U.S. House.

"Don't let these folks down," Steele said. "Make sure the doors are knocked, the dollars are raised, and the neighbors are touched - and the message sent out that this is the change Pennsylvanians wanted, not that craziness they're doing down in Washington."

Toomey, who represented the Lehigh Valley's 15th Congressional District in the House from 1999 to 2005, said Republicans were united in their opposition to "wasteful . . . out of control" government spending.

"People across Pennsylvania know that we can't borrow and spend our way to prosperity," Toomey said.

Toomey will face Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak, who defeated five-term Sen. Arlen Specter (D., Pa.) in the primary last week. On Tuesday, Specter escorted Sestak to a lunch meeting of the Democratic Senate caucus on Capitol Hill.

"He was more than gracious in his comments and in his support of me," Sestak said. He praised Specter for increasing medical research spending by the National Institutes of Health.

Cawley, a Bucks County commissioner, said that Republicans needed to gain back ground they have lost in the Philadelphia suburbs, a traditional stronghold, to win.

"The time of government being all things to all people has come to an end," Cawley asserted. Government should be "a silent partner and simply get out of the way," he said.

Among the candidates attending were former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, a Bucks County Republican in a rematch with Rep. Patrick Murphy (D., Pa.), and Tim Burns, who lost a special election May 18 to fill the seat vacated by the late Rep. John Murtha (D., Pa.) in Western Pennsylvania. Burns will face Democrat Mark Critz in the general election Nov. 2 for a full term.

Burns vowed the result would be different, with a more even playing field and voter sentiment in the 12th District leaning toward Republican positions.

He said that polling showed "one-third of the Democrats who came out were there specifically to vote against Arlen Specter." Liberal Democrats so motivated "were not going to turn around and vote for me," Burns said.

Contact staff writer Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or tfitzgerald@phillynews.com.