Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin told North Carolinians that their choice on Election Day was clear.
“You have a choice between a politician who puts his faith in big government and a true leader, John McCain, who puts his faith in all of you,” Palin told a crowd of several thousand.
Palin's main pitch in the campaign's final stretch focused on pro-business policies, lowering taxes and achieving energy independence, while billing McCain's Democratic opponent Barack Obama as over-confident and treating the actual election as a formality.
She said she had one thing in common with Obama: they'd both spent some time on the basketball court.
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“Where I come from you've got to win the game before you start cutting down the net,” said Palin, who spoke for more than half an hour to a cheering crowd at a packed Civic Center in Asheville.
Against the backdrop of a giant flag, Palin stood on stage wearing jeans and a jacket after a rough week in which her more upscale wardrobe – paid for by the Republican Party – had drawn unwanted negative attention to the McCain campaign.
The political press began reporting that McCain insiders felt she had gone “rogue” and wouldn't take advice from the campaign. McCain has praised her.
Teresa Case of Statesville, who traveled to Asheville with friends to hear Palin talk, said Palin has been unfairly characterized in the press.
“It's because the liberals are afraid of her,” said Case, who spends her free time volunteering to help McCain get elected. “They're picking on her because they can't pick on McCain.”
The campaign's appearance in North Carolina is a sign of trouble for the campaign.
Republicans have been able to take the state's electoral votes to the bank for three decades.
But this year polls show the race so tight that they had to spend time and money solidifying their hold here, taking time away from more traditional battlegrounds. Both campaigns have blanketed the airwaves with ads.
Once a reliably conservative region, Western North Carolina has a moderate Democrat member of Congress, freshman Rep. Heath Shuler of Waynesville, who seems safe in his re-election bid against Asheville City Councilman Carl Mumpower.
It's one of the signs of change in this area that could give trouble to the McCain campaign.
The crowd did the wave, chanted “Sarah” and held up lots of “Joe” signs – “Joe the carpenter” and “Joe Mama” among them – referencing the Ohio man who became widely known as “Joe the plumber” after McCain made him a focal point of a debate with Obama.
Country musician Gretchen Wilson kicked off the rally with a cover of the Heart song “Barracuda,” a reference to Palin's high school basketball nickname “Sarah Barracuda.”
A few Obama supporters showed up outside the event, holding signs that included “Say yes to Obama” and “Real women's rights include choice.”
In a conference call with reporters, U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, a Democrat from Lillington, said Obama's “message of positive hope and change” was resonating in his state.
“The fact that the Republican candidate is spending the time and his vice presidential nominee is spending the time here is an indication that the campaign is in trouble,” Etheridge said in a conference call with reporters. “Golly, North Carolina has not been blue since 1976.”