Presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., front, waves to the crowd as he arrives for a campaign rally followed by his vice presidential running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, left, Sunday, Aug. 31, 2008, in O’Fallon, Mo. Following Gov. Palin are, from front to back, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, McCain’s wife Cindy and daughter Meghan, Huckabee’s wife Janet and Gov. Palin’s husband Todd. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) — They jammed to country music, munched on hot dogs and popcorn, sweated through their red-shirts in the summer sun and erupted in applause as a bus drove straight into the ballpark.
The River City Rascals minor league baseball season was over. But the political season was in high heat Sunday as thousands of people filled their stadium to rally behind Republican presidential candidate John McCain and his new running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
The event was one of first in which McCain shared the stage both with Palin and his past GOP presidential opponents — Mitt Rommey and Mike Huckabee. It also was one of the final stops as the GOP ticket makes its way to the Republican National Convention this week in Minnesota.
McCain spotlighted Palin at the suburban St. Louis rally — giving her the clean-up speaking spot on a stage erected over the ballfield’s home plate. She got an enthusiastic reception from the crowd that filled the infield bleachers and spread from the dirt base paths into the outfield grass. At various times, they chanted, “Sarah, Sarah.”
The ball team’s president said the stadium holds about 15,000 for such concert-style events. Republican consultant John Hancock, who served as master of ceremonies for the event, estimated there were about 20,000 people.
The rally was held on important political ground for McCain in his November matchup against Democrat Barack Obama. O’Fallon is located in St. Charles County, a traditional Republican base.
In each of the past two elections, President Bush was spurred to victory in Missouri partly because his combined votes from St. Charles County and from the southwest Missouri Republican stronghold of Greene County more than made up for his deficit in the state’s most populous area of St. Louis County.
Palin, a 44-year-old mother of five and a first-term governor, carries strong social conservative credentials that often prove important in those areas. She was raised in a Pentecostal church, is a member of the National Rifle Association and has called herself “as pro-life as any candidate can be.”
“She’s fantastic!” exclaimed Jody Garcia, 48, of nearby Belleville, Ill. “She’s smart, she’s young, she’s energetic, she’s has all the right stances on issues.”
“I would have been supporting McCain anyway, but now I’m excited,” Garcia added.
Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder proclaimed that McCain has “supercharged” his campaign with the selection of Palin.
“Before, the attitude of folks on our side was, ‘Well, we’re going to vote for McCain, but we’re not enthusiastic,’ and the question of how much we’re going to go out and work was in doubt,” Kinder said in an interview. Now, “our coalition is reassembled as a fighting army