Toned-down Sarah Palin rallies thousands in Loveland

Gov. Sarah Palin speaks in Loveland, Colo., the second stop of a 24-hour, 3-event march across the state. (Photo/Bob Spencer)
Gov. Sarah Palin speaks in Loveland, Colo., the second stop of a 24-hour, 3-event march across the state. (Photo/Bob Spencer)

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin retreated a bit from her typical attack mode at a campaign event today in Loveland, Colo.

Palin spoke to a crowd of 7,120 at the Budweiser Events Center around 1:15 p.m.; it was her second event in a three-stop swing through hotly contested Colorado. This morning she visited Colorado Springs and she is due in Grand Junction this evening.

Unlike past events where Palin accused Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama of “palling around with terrorists,” she laid off the character blitz this afternoon. Palin is known for slamming Obama for his tenuous connection to William Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground who is now a college professor. But she backed off this time, a possible sign that the John McCain campaign is acknowledging that voters are weary of the relentless negativity.

Yet while Palin dropped the terrorist topic, she defended her past actions. “It is not mean-spirited, negative campaigning to call someone out on their record and association,” she said to the crowd shortly after her speech began.

The audience at the event was relatively tame compared with past rallies, where crowd members shouted threats at Obama. The Loveland assembly counted mostly white families and older men and women, several of whom carried signs that read, “The Unborn for Palin,” “Teens 4 Palin,” “Real Girls Wear Lipstick,” “You Betcha” and “Soccer Dads for Palin.” One person waved a “Pit bull Palin” sign, which senate candidate Bob Shaffer misread as “Pit bulls for Palin” during his introductory speech at the event. (Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, outgoing Sen. Wayne Allard and state Rep. Don Marostica also spoke.)

The cheery audience grew even cheerier when Palin took the stage with her husband, Todd, and daughters, Willow and Piper, telling the crowd that she had a surprise in store, a reward for them for waiting in line.

Then, Hank Williams Jr., appeared onstage wearing an orange John Elway Broncos jersey and a cowboy hat. Williams led the crowd in the national anthem and then launched into a song about the “McCain-Palin tradition,” in which he lambasted the “left-wing liberal media” that “most of the American people don’t believe anyway.” McCain and Palin “are just like you and old Hank,” he crooned. “They don’t have terrorist friends” and they “shall protect your family’s tradition.”

Palin’s speech centered on Obama’s tax policy; she said he is “not being candid with you” about his plans. Though he intends to cut income taxes for 95 percent of working Americans, she said, what he fails to mention is that 40 percent of people don’t pay income taxes in the first place. Palin also said that his tax plans amount to socialism.

“Obama calls it spreading the wealth,” she said. “Now is not the time to experiment with socialism. Distributing the wealth will stifle entrepreneurial spirit.”

John McCain, she said, will lower income taxes and double the child tax deduction, balance the budget and cut spending. She also called for “responsible domestic energy solutions” that will harness “the alternative sources that God has richly blessed this land with” but also said that “we will drill here and drill now.” That last statement was met with cries of “drill baby, drill,” a reliable Palin mantra referring to her support of extracting domestic natural resources. Palin went one step further at this event, replying, “Drill, baby, drill and mine, baby, mine.”

Though Palin barely touched on issues specific to Larimer County, she did remind the crowd that early voting began in Colorado today. “John McCain and I are asking for your vote,” she said. “Since he won’t say it on his own, I will say it on his behalf. There is only one man in this race who has fought for you and will continue to fight for you: John McCain.”

The audience cheered while Palin stepped down to shake hands. Williams, who spent the speech onstage with Palin, stood awkwardly for a few moments and then launched into the crowd as well.

After the event, several people stayed behind, trying to catch a last glimpse of Palin. By that point, the campaign volunteers had relaxed their surveillance of the media (according to two volunteers, the campaign told them to stop the press from speaking with audience members). Stacey Boucher, a 29-year-old mother of two from Fort Collins, agreed to share her thoughts on the event. “Palin is awesome,” she said. “If you disagree with her that’s OK. She’s not trying to be anyone’s friend. McCain can be wishy-washy, but she is genuine.

“I’ll vote for her,” she added. “And even if Obama wins, my hope is that she is not a tagline in history.”

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