Palin Boosts Numbers, Feistiness Of McCain Crowds
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.
John McCain has been holding campaign events for a year and a half but in the past week or so they have changed dramatically. The big difference is the crowds. The Republican presidential candidate was drawing devoted followers but in small numbers - a hundred at one stop; a few hundred at the next.
But since Sarah Palin joined the ticket, he's pulling in crowds of five or ten or even fifteen thousand people at every stop. And it's not just the size of the crowds, because the atmosphere is different as well.
NPR's Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA: If you attended any John McCain rally this year during the primary season, you pretty much found the same thing: a small venue, a group of devoted followers, lots of veterans, lots of Republicans who were happy to tell you how independent they are, how often they differ with their own party.
These days, those people may still be in the crowd, but you're far more likely to hear this:
Tell me why you're here.
Ms. CAROL SPIVEY(ph) (McCain Supporter): Because I like Palin and I'm a strong Republican.
GONYEA: What does she mean for the ticket?
Ms. SPIVEY: Well, she's a big boost, in my opinion.
GONYEA: That's Carol Spivey, who attended a big Main Street rally in Lebanon, Ohio this week. The old McCain crowds were a more restrained lot. The new ones are bursting with energy, never missing a chance to break into a large, rhythmic chant. Sometimes it's the name of his running mate.
(Soundbite of people chanting)
GONYEA: Or they chant things like straight talk, when McCain promises to provide some; or drill, baby, drill, when Palin calls for more offshore drilling.
(Soundbite of applause)
GONYEA: In many ways it feels like the formerly tepid John McCain audiences have morphed into the very multitudes that showed up to see President Bush as he campaigned back in 2000 and 2004. As with those Bush crowds, family values have come to the fore, thanks to Sarah Palin's vocal anti-abortion views. Nancy Switzer came out to an event in Cedarburg, Wisconsin.
Ms. NANCY SWITZER (McCain Supporter): I am pro-life and I was pumped when I heard he picked her as a running mate.
GONYEA: And remember how people would say what a regular guy George W. Bush was; how they'd like to have a beer with him? In Lebanon, Ohio, Marilyn Baker had this to say about Palin:
Ms. MARILYN BAKER (McCain Supporter): A mom, she's just everyday ordinary people but yet she's very, very political. She knows what she wants; she goes for it.
GONYEA: And one other way these crowds are like those who turned out for President Bush, they have a strong dislike of the media and a belief that Palin has been unfairly attacked.
There's another thing that seems to be driving these crowds, though: these are members of the solid Republican base, people who have stuck with President Bush, even when his approval ratings hit the floor. People who have defended Iraq War, people who've seen their views on both fall way out of favor in national polls. They've spent the last two years fearing the worst about this year's election - until now.
For Bush and McCain and Palin supporter, Cheryl Howsworth(ph), it's vindication.
Ms. CHERYL HOWSWORTH (Bush, McCain and Palin Supporter): I am for this ticket 100 percent, lifetime Republican. This is great. These are the good people; they're the right people, the proper people, for the times we live in. It was great to see the Republicans on the offensive instead of always on the defensive.
GONYEA: There is a question as to whether John McCain will be able to draw such crowds when he campaigns without Sarah Palin. It's clearly an item of some concern to the McCain campaign as well. They say it's possible the two will campaign together much more than has been typical for either major party's presidential and vice presidential nominees in recent elections.
That means they'll forgo the chance to split up and to be two places at once, in order to allow McCain to take advantage of the celebrity-like draw of his running mate.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, traveling with the McCain campaign.
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