FAIRFAX, Va. — All election season I’ve been saying if you want to find parking, go to a Republican campaign event. That’s because ever since Iowa, the crowd sizes at Republican candidate rallies have paled in comparison to what the Democrats draw. But that was in the pre-Palin era. Now everything has changed, and suddenly Obama-like crowds are following Republicans.
Arriving at the rally an hour ahead of time, we had to cricle around for 15 minutes just to find paking a half a mile away from the event, on a residential street. The line to get into the rally, which was held at a local park, extended for several blocks, and by the time I got in I saw thousands of people fanning out all over the park from the stage.
It’s amazing how much Palin has become the focus of these McCain events. The most popular chant was “SA-RAH!” “SAR-AH!” “SAR-AH!” I saw one man with a “Sarah! Will you marry me?” sign, another that read “Read my lipstick: Baseball and Soccer Mom for McCain-Palin” and another that read “She’s Our Girl.”
Fred Thompson made a surprise appearance to warm up the audience, and most of his speech revolved around Palin, defending her record and experience against Democrats and the media.
“Sarah Palin has more experience than Barack Obama,” Thompson said, to more chants of “SAR-AH!”
“They are now parachuting in dozens of lawyers, and investigators, and scandal mongers, and representatives of cable networks to look under every rock they can find in Alaska,” he said, echoing the theme of a new McCain ad. “I hope they brought their own brei and chablis with them.”
Thompson also made what appeared to be a reference to the lipstick-on-a-pig controversy. His words were obscured by applause on my recording, but he said Democrats launched the “most vicious assault” he’s seen in a presidential race and are now “pulling out all the stops.”
McCain and Palin entered with Cindy and Todd at their side with “Eye of the Tiger” blasting, and they gave what were more or less condensed versions of their convention speeches. This is more of a problem for Palin than it is for McCain. Roughly 40 million people saw her speech. The longer she goes on repeating some of the often-quoted lines (such as the one about how some men use change to promote their careers and others, like John McCain, use their careers to promote change), the more it will reinforce the idea that she has nothing much else to say. At some point, and I think we’re getting there pretty soon, she’s going to have to mix it up more.
But for now, the crowd loves it. The event drew 23,000 people, according to an RNC source citing the fire marshall report, which would make it the biggest event of the entire campaign for McCain. In a 13-electoral vote state that Obama hopes to paint blue for the first time since 1964, it’s going to be crucial for McCain to turnout his voters. I can confirm other reports that people did begin to leave after Palin spoke (and while McCain was speaking), though it was far from a mass exodus. Most people stayed to hear McCain, and there were chants of “JOHN MC-CAIN!” And as they exited, volunteers were handing out yard signs and bumper stickers.