Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin lent her star power and conservative credentials to John McCain March 26 as the senator faces the toughest re-election bid of his lengthy career.
The raucous rally at Tucson’s Pima County Fairgrounds attracted about 4,000 people, many dressed in patriotic colors, who came to see the pair in their first stop since campaigning on the 2008 presidential trail.
“We’ve come a long way from the 2008 campaign,” said Palin, who was dressed in a black leather suit jacket.
But this time Palin was helping McCain get re-elected to the U.S. Senate. She trumpeted his stances against President Obama-backed initiatives, such as the federal stimulus and the historic health care vote – and his willingness to take on what she called the “elite Washington machine.”
“I ask you for the sake of your state and the sake of our country that you send the maverick back to the Senate,” Palin said to cheers.
The two-time presidential candidate and Arizona icon is being challenged by former congressman and conservative talk-radio host J.D. Hayworth in August’s Republican primary.
But not even Sheriff Joe can compete with the drawing power of Palin, who in addition to being a GOP darling is now a best-selling author and soon-to-be reality show star on the TLC network.
And more than a dozen people told the ~Arizona Capitol Times~ that it was Palin that primarily drew them south of Tucson, not McCain.
“She’s invigorating the entire party,” said Tucson’s Anne Lapin.
Hayworth’s name was never mentioned on stage during the speeches by McCain and Palin that totaled about 20 minutes.
But many in attendance knew it well.
Paul Stephanus traveled from Marana north of Tucson with his wife Anne to see the rally. The Vietnam veteran and former war photographer said when it comes to the primary, he’s voting for Hayworth.
“But if McCain wins, I’ll pull for him (in the general election),” he said.
His wife is not so sure. She likes the McCain she’s seen recently and wishes he would have been as chippy during the presidential election.
“I wish he would have had the fire in his belly that he now has,” Anne said.
McCain spent the majority of the speech railing against the health care reform package signed into law this week, calling it a sleazy partisan effort that goes against the will of the American majority.
“This is a right-of-center nation, and this president is governing from the left,” McCain said, “and it will not stand.”
The latest Rasmussen Reports poll shows Hayworth is within striking distance of McCain. Last week’s poll showed McCain leads Hayworth 48 percent to 41 percent among likely Republican voters in the state.
The party’s base in Arizona has criticized McCain for not being conservative enough. Palin seemed to want to blunt that criticism.
“Long before there were protests on Main Street or marches on Capitol Hill, there was the maverick of the Senate fighting for us,” she said.
Palin’s endorsement and speaking arrangements for the senator are a huge coup for his campaign, said ASU pollster Bruce Merrill.
Had Palin come out for Hayworth, it might have been enough to win the primary, he said.
“It’s a really big deal,” Merrill said. “Right or wrong, Sarah Palin is the darling of the Republican Party and the religious right.”
Palin and McCain, along with their spouses, took the stage to music from rock band AC/DC’s “For those about to rock (we salute you).”
Tucson resident David Berry said he was excited about the message he heard and about the supporters that turned out to hear it.
“I saw a massive crowd here that appreciated what they heard and are hoping that we can get this country changed around, going in the right direction,” Berry said.
Next, McCain and Palin will speak during a rally at 9 a.m. tomorrow (March 27) at Dobson High School in Mesa.