10,000 welcome McCain-Palin

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG and MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: September 20, 2008 - 4:59 PM

With the GOP candidates showing strength among the state's young, suburban women, they zeroed in on Anoka County.

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John McCain and Sarah Palin brought their campaign back to Minnesota Friday, appearing before thousands of roaring supporters in a cavernous hangar at the Anoka County-Blaine Airport.

At the same hour, Barack Obama's backers filled Peavy Plaza in downtown Minneapolis -- and roared back.

With polls showing Minnesota reemerging as a battleground state in the election, the campaigns appear to be targeting key voter groups that could tip the balance.

At both events, participants carried signs playing off the lipstick motif Palin has injected into the campaign -- "Read my Lipstick" read placards at each rally -- spelling out in red and white the key role women voters are expected to play on Nov. 4.

Independent, middle-class voters are another crucial group the campaigns are wooing. A recent Star Tribune Minnesota Poll showed them splitting the independent vote almost evenly.

But McCain and Palin also played to their base supporters, delivering slashing attacks against Obama in their remarks. Both were lustily cheered, unlike earlier appearances this week, when enthusiasm for Palin overshadowed McCain.

"Our opponent points the finger of blame, but has he ever lifted a finger to help?" Palin asked.

"NO!" the crowd responded.

As vice president, Palin said, she will concentrate her efforts on government reform, energy independence and help for children with special needs, a personal priority because her 4-month-old son suffers from Down syndrome.

When she talked about the need to diversify the nation's energy supply, Palin was greeted by the "Drill, Baby, Drill" chant that had rocked the Republican convention.

Palin condemned Iran's attempt to develop nuclear weapons. "Iran should not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons -- period!" she said.

McCain decried this week's Wall Street meltdown, saying if he is elected "the forces that brought down our economy will be out of business."

The financial crisis, McCain said, had its roots in "the Washington culture of lobbying and influence peddling." McCain said he tried two years ago to legislate reforms of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. "Congress did nothing, the administration did nothing, Sen. Obama did nothing" -- other than, he said, "to take their money."

Although both candidates have received campaign contributions from the two organizations and their officials, Obama got far more than McCain.

"NO-BAMA!" chanted the audience, some 10,000 strong.

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis

At Peavey Plaza, about 3,000 Obama supporters delighted just as heartily in shots at McCain -- and even more so, at Palin.

"We can almost see Canada from here," said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak after welcoming the GOP ticket to the Twin Cities. "That will double her [Palin's] foreign policy experience." The crowd cheered and whooped.

A middle-aged woman wore a T-shirt that read "I'm a hockey mom, but I ain't no Pit Bull," playing off a joke Palin told in her convention acceptance speech that introduced the "lipstick" theme to the campaign.

Lipstick was mentioned on numerous signs in the crowd, including one bearing a picture of President Bush wearing lipstick.

The Palin phenomenon

McCain's swing through the Upper Midwest -- today's rally followed stops Thursday in Iowa and Wisconsin -- underscores the importance of the region to the ticket's chances on Nov. 4. Last week's Minnesota Poll showed the race in the state tied at 45 percent.

That poll also shows some potential targets of opportunity for McCain among Minnesota's female voters.

His pick of Palin was widely seen as being a bid to capture more female votes, which have tended Democratic for years. Although polls don't yet show a dramatic shift overall, the Minnesota Poll did find the GOP ticket showing strength in several female demographic pockets.

Specifically, McCain is running most strongly among young women, women who live in the suburbs and women with moderate incomes.

Appealing to women

The search for such voters may have inspired the rally's location in Anoka County, a moderate income suburban region that has swung in recent elections between the major parties and sometimes in favor of third-party hopefuls.

Young women, many with children in tow, showed up in droves at Friday's rally.

Julie Fuerst, 36, wore a black homemade t-shirt that read "Palin Rocks" and held her 2-year-old son, Lincoln. "I made it last night," said Fuerst, who lives in Andover and described herself as a "critical thinker" and a Republican.

"I love her because she didn't intend to go into politics," said Fuerst. "It was the way it was meant to be."

Thirty-year-old Melissa Clark stood outside holding a double-wide stroller, where her 9-month-old twins, Emma and Sara, quietly sat. Her other daughter, 9-year-old Hannah, held a red, white and blue sign that read, "Less Taxes Is Patriotic," a dig at Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden's statement that having the wealthy pay higher taxes would be patriotic.

"I consider myself a conservative. I've voted Democratic before," said Clark, a homemaker in Elk River.

Lindsay Koneczny, 18, and her friend Elisia Meyer, 20, drove from Prior Lake to make it to the rally. "[I'm] definitely more of a Republican," said Meyer, who lives in Burnsville and recently graduated from Augsburg College.

But this, said Meyer, was her first political rally. "I support them, especially since Palin was added to the ticket," she said. "If you watched the [Republican National Convention] she was pretty much the only exciting part of it ... ."

"She's a little bit of all of us," said Brooklyn Park resident Nora Greteman. "I feel empowered by her because she is a middle-class woman.

"John McCain, he's, you know, he's like an ordinary politician with some outstanding qualities. But Sarah is a phenomenon."

Staff writer Aimee Blanchette contributed to this report. vonste@startribune.com • 612-673-7184 mkaszuba@startribute.com • 651-222-1673

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