He came to this stronghold of Christian evangelism, this time accompanied by a running mate who has energized the socially conservative base of the GOP. And what a difference it made.
Two days after he accepted his party’s nomination for president, Republican John McCain and his new vice president-select Sarah Palin were in Colorado Springs wooing a crowd estimated between 10,000 and 15,000. It was clear that, at least to many in this crowd, the Palin pick was a big hit.
Colorado Springs, home to many evangelical organizations and Christian nonprofits, was a must-stop for McCain, who has struggled to energize the conservative base throughout the campaign. Defeated soundly in the primary season by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Colorado, McCain’s reputation among the far right has been as one of not being conservative enough. Not to mention, he was the target of sustained criticism during the primary by James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, which is headquartered in this city, Colorado’s second-largest metropolitan areas and one of the more conservative in the country. Last week, Dobson reversed his criticism and now says he supports McCain.
Which brings us to Alaska Gov. Palin, a socially conservative, self-proclaimed reformer who has energized the Republican Party — and given McCain’s campaign new life.
“It’s great to be here in Colorado,” Palin said to the large crowd, many of whom had waited in line for five hours to see the campaign event, which lasted 25 minutes. “The mountains remind me of being back home in Alaska.”
In Wisconsin and Michigan on Friday, and headed to New Mexico after Colorado Springs, McCain has been quick to parade Palin to the conservative base in the nation’s swing states, pleading their support in a campaign that many say is now winnable. Of all McCain’s visits to Colorado this summer, Saturday’s was the most energized — with loud music blaring from large speakers and thousands of American flags being handed out.
Both Palin and McCain’s Saturday speeches were simplified, shortened versions of the remarks they made in Minnesota last week at the Republican National Convention. McCain, pulling a Sharpie marker from his jacket, reiterated his vow to veto federal legislation that included pork-barrel spending, to drill on domestic lands and to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats.
As has been tradition in McCain’s stump speeches, the Arizona Republican talked about his support of the war in Iraq and the economy — including people’s fears about losing their jobs and being able to keep their homes. There were many mentions of his war record and maverick image, especially by his new No. 2.
The majority of some 10,000 to 15,000 attendees stood on the tarmac outside the airplane hangar, where McCain spoke with little shade from the sun and where a number of people were carried away by medical personnel during the event, apparent victims of dehydration or sun stroke during the event.
Despite the heat and long lines, the campaigning duo worked up the crowd, who waved homemade signs, many of which were in support of Palin.
“I was aboard (before) but I do like her,” said Barb Hendricks, a front-row attendee who arrived at the event five hours early. “She stands for everything that we are.”
McCain, who boarded his campaign plane directly after the event in sight of the crowd, finished his speech with hope that this new enthusiasm in Colorado Springs will equate to votes 58 days from now and land him another red state on the electoral map.
“We need to carry Colorado,” McCain yelled through cheers of the crowd. “We need to win Colorado and I need your help.”