In O'Fallon, Cheers For McCain And Palin
By Mark Schlinkmann and Michele Munz,
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
September 1, 2008
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O'FALLON, Mo. -- John McCain presented his new vice presidential running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, to thousands of cheering Missouri supporters at a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon rally at the home of St. Charles County's minor league baseball team.
"She's exactly who I need," the Arizona senator said at a jam-packed T.R. Hughes Ballpark. "She's exactly what the country needs to fight the same old Washington politics of me first and country second."
Many in the crowd seemed to agree, breaking out at one point in a chant of "Sar-ah, Sar-ah."
Wendy Riemann, a McCain spokeswoman, said about 23,000 people passed through security magnetometers to get into the park. They were in the stands, on the field and in other areas. An official with the River City Rascals, the team based at the park, gave a crowd estimate of 14,000.
The rally was in the heart of St. Charles County, an area rich with Republican votes where the size of the GOP turnout has been key in closely contested statewide races in recent years. The candidates' appearance was one in a series they plan before arriving at this week's Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.
McCain recounted Palin's election as Alaska governor in 2006 and how she took on a "corrupt" political culture in her home state that he said had become a national disgrace.
He also said Palin had vetoed "one big pork-barrel bill after another" and, as a former union member, knows the struggles of average working people to pay their bills.
"When you get to know her, you're going to be as impressed as I am," McCain said. "She's got grit, integrity, good sense and fierce devotion to common good."
Palin said she had fought special interests, lobbyists, oil companies and "the good-old boy network." She also said she had opposed the oft-criticized "Bridge to Nowhere" — a sparsely populated island — that an Alaskan in Congress had tried to get funded.
Thousands stood for more than an hour in heat that reached nearly 90 degrees to get into the ballpark. At one point, the line to get into the ballpark stretched for about a half-mile.
Many said they came to see Palin, hoping to learn more about her.
"She's a powerful speaker," Kris Weidenbenner, 49, of St. Charles, said afterward.
Weidenbenner took his spot along the third-base line soon after gates opened at 1:30, a half hour early. Standing in the hot sun for about four hours to see McCain and Palin, who began speaking about 5 p.m., "was worth it," he said.
Linda Bauwens, 58, of Weldon Spring, said she was impressed with Palin's record as governor. Her husband, Ron Bauwens, also 58, said Palin is "going to be a bulldog" for the GOP ticket.
Kathy Pfeffer, 56, of Fenton, cited Palin's reform and budget reduction efforts. "She's proven she can do it just as good as a man, if not better," she said.
Earlier Sunday, a top Missouri Democrat -- Sen. Claire McCaskill -- criticized Palin as a "risky" pick during a news conference in Bridgeton. "It shows he is perfectly willing to abandon the modern middle and wrap himself around the radical right in this country," McCaskill said.
But the choice of Palin has been lauded by many social conservatives who like her strong anti-abortion position, among other stances.
McCain and Palin arrived at the park after visiting an emergency command center in Jackson, Miss., to check on preparations for dealing with Hurricane Gustav on the Gulf Coast.