Sunday, September 21, 2008

Palin draws crowd of 60,000 in Florida

By Bill Cotterell • capital bureau • September 21, 2008

THE VILLAGES -- Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin told wildly cheering, flag-waving, chanting supporters that John McCain is "the only great man in this race" and promised Sunday he will fix the nation's economy if voters give the GOP four more years in the White House."He won't say this, so I'll say it for him," the Alaska governor said in an almost confidential tone at the close of her first Florida stump speech. "There is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you. John McCain wore the uniform of his country for 22 years -- talk about tough."The Villages, a vast, upscale planned community north of Orlando, has about 70,000 mostly adult residents -- many of them military retirees -- who vote reliably Republican in statewide races. Tens of thousands inched along roads into the picturesque town square of the complex, where they stood in sweltering heat for about four hours as local GOP officials and a country band revved up the crowd."Sa-Rah! Sa-Rah!" they chanted at every mention of her name, applauding loudly and waiving tiny American flags that were distributed -- along with free water bottles -- by local volunteers. The fire chief estimated the crowd at 60,000.

Admiring throngs mobbed the Palin family's arrival and departure, snapping souvenir pictures. Autograph seekers thrust campaign signs, caps with the McCain-Palin logo and copies of magazines with her face on their covers, and the Palins responded warmly.Palin, her husband and three of their children arrived in Orlando but spent a family day at Disney World, she said as she introduced her entourage to the enthusiastic crowd.

She joked about similarities and differences of the two states at opposite corners of America, but was all business when she focused on the need for a large voter turnout in a hotly contested state with 27 electoral votes.Recent polls have given the McCain-Palin ticket a single-digit edge but Florida is clearly up for grabs. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., campaigned from Jacksonville to Miami late last week and the Democrats have mobilized a massive volunteer effort statewide. McCain, who led the Jan. 29 state primary with a big boost from popular Gov. Charlie Crist, has strong support in the vital I-4 corridor and across North Florida, where conservative southerners tend to register as Democrats but vote Republican in statewide races.

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