Palin rocks York crowd

Thousands turn out in Pa. for John McCain's running mate

Election 2008

November 01, 2008|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

YORK, Pa. - It was an entrance almost worthy of Madonna.

As the lights went down inside the Toyota Arena late yesterday afternoon and spotlights swept the crowd of more than 5,000, the Straight Talk Express bus pulled directly into the hall. Out stepped the Republican nominee for vice president, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, to rousing cheers.

It was Palin's fourth rally in Pennsylvania in the last two days - an indication of the critical role the state plays in the McCain campaign's intended path to victory. Dressed all in black, she appeared on a stage decked out with straw and pumpkins, joined by her husband, Todd, and daughter Piper, 7, who was dressed all in white as a snow princess for Halloween.

Many in the crowd wore buttons that said, "Sarah!" and one woman sported a T-shirt she designed herself, featuring a pit bull with red lipstick. Some said they would not have attended if Sen. John McCain had been speaking. They wanted Palin.

"I was very undecided before she came on the ticket," said Hilary Trout, 41, of York, who attended the rally with her mother and 12-year-old son. "There's just something about her. She's different. She doesn't fit the mold. I can relate to her."

The intense feelings Palin stirs in some voters, as well as some of her recent breaks with McCain on campaign issues and tactics, have fueled speculation that she's preparing for her own run for the White House in 2012. Palin herself, in an interview with ABC News this week, said, "I'm not doing this for naught."

But yesterday she seemed to dial back any talk of her own political future. She spent the better part of her 25-minute speech extolling McCain, when she wasn't attacking their opponent, Sen. Barack Obama. And after the rally, in response to a reporter's shouted question of whether she would run for president in 2012, Palin said, "I'll be campaigning for John McCain's re-election bid in 2012," pumping her fists into the air.

The governor certainly took it to Obama in her speech, suggesting that he would not defend the country. She described his tax plan as "phony" and approvingly quoted the now ubiquitous Joe the Plumber in describing the Obama tax plan as "socialism," drawing some of the loudest cheers of the afternoon.

"The time for choosing, as it's coming near, I sure hope voters are realizing ... that now more than ever we need a leader who is ready on Day 1," Palin said. "And John and I also, joining you in always being proud to be an American, we believe that America is not the problem, America is the solution."

There has been evidence, however, that Palin is a drag on the ticket. Some prominent Republicans have said her selection calls into question McCain's judgment. Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, in endorsing Obama, said of Palin: "I don't believe she's ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president."

A New York Times/CBS News poll released Thursday found that 59 percent of surveyed voters said Palin was not prepared for the job, up nine percentage points from earlier in the month.

None of them, however, were to be found yesterday. Voters interviewed before and after the rally spoke approvingly of Palin's family values and opposition to abortion. They dismissed talk that she wasn't ready to be vice president, saying her executive experience counted for more than Obama's time in the Senate. Moreover, they said, she was one of them.

Jessica Christensen and her mother, Carol Tanzola, both of York, said Palin had boosted McCain's standing in their mind. Tanzola, 57, said she would have voted for McCain anyway, but her daughter wasn't so sure.

"Palin's helped him a lot. The only reason I'm voting the way I am is because of her," said Christensen, 28. "I think it's about time that a strong woman put some of the good old boys in their place."

McCain is counting on Pennsylvania and its 21 electoral votes as a firewall against projected Obama wins in traditionally Republican states like Virginia.

Voters in York were thrilled to be getting all the attention, yet they weren't at all convinced that voters even in traditionally Republican south central Pennsylvania would go for McCain.

Polls show Obama with a lead of 9 or 10 points in the state.

"I haven't felt this good about a politician since Ronald Reagan" said Mike Rhoads of East York. "She's a bit young, but if they don't get elected, she'll be a force to be reckoned with in four to eight years."

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