Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008 | 2 a.m.
The Republican presidential ticket on Monday made its last stops in Nevada before Election Day, underscoring the importance of the state to the party’s hopes of retaining the White House.
Sen. John McCain made a rousing speech in Henderson before thousands of supporters, finishing a day of marathon campaigning that took him to Florida, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Tennessee. He then headed home to Prescott, Ariz., for the night and to vote this morning.
McCain, who’s been counted out during the campaign numerous times, finished it with gusto, telling a packed Henderson Pavilion to never give up while promising victory in today’s election.
“I am an American, and I choose to fight. Don’t give up the fight. Be strong. Have courage and fight.”
McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who thrilled a Henderson Pavilion crowd herself last month, excited audiences in Reno and Elko before returning with her family to Alaska in the wee hours this morning.
Flanked by her parents, her husband, her in-laws and her brother, Palin gave perhaps the most spirited speech of the three she has made in Northern Nevada since her surprise selection by McCain in August.
Speaking to 3,500 people at the Reno Livestock Events Center, Palin sounded a little hoarse, the only sign of fatigue from her final sprint.
Republicans in the audience insisted that they still had a chance to win, despite national polls showing Democratic Sen. Barack Obama with a commanding lead.
Given the advantage Democrats enjoyed in early voting in Nevada, Republicans here said they needed strong turnout of Republican voters, particularly in the north, which has traditionally been the party’s counterweight to the Democratic advantage in Clark County. This year, however, Democrats outnumber Republicans in early voting — even in Washoe County.
Republicans, who had to endure several visits from the Democratic ticket of Obama and Sen. Joe Biden, were relieved and heartened by their candidates’ late visits, according to Robert Uithoven, a Republican consultant and informal adviser to the McCain campaign.
Republicans hoped the candidates would enthuse the party’s volunteers and voters, who must make a strong showing on Election Day given Democrats early voting advantage of 75,000 in Clark County.
McCain was traveling Monday with wife Cindy, daughter Meghan and his best friends in the U.S. Senate, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman, who was the Democrats’ 2000 vice presidential nominee.
McCain’s closing argument is that he’s a proven fighter who will keep fighting, be it enemies abroad or the corrupt ways of Washington at home.
“We have to bring real change to Washington and we have to fight for it.”
McCain praised his running mate, even as polls show she’s become a drag on the Republican ticket, as a majority of Americans believe she’s unqualified to be president in the event the 72-year-old McCain were unable to complete his term.
“No, she’s never been to a Georgetown cocktail party,” he said, referring to a tony section of Washington, D.C. “But she knows how to lead her state and this great country and I’m so proud of her.”
Though the events center in Reno was half-full, Palin charged up the crowd with attacks on Obama and the Democratic Party.
“Let us not retreat from a war we’ve almost won,” she said to roars of approval. “His rousing words can fill a stadium,” she said of Obama, but they can’t keep a country safe.”
Palin tried to put Obama in the camp of what the late neoconservative Jeane Kirkpatrick called the “blame-America-first crowd.”
“America is not the problem, America is the solution,” Palin said.
She invoked former President Ronald Reagan: “We do believe, still, that American is the ‘shining city on hill,’ as Reagan said. We need someone who is ready and worthy to lead it. Someone who inspires not just with words, but with heroic deeds. That is John McCain.”
Palin was late for her appearance in Elko, where some 2,700 people gathered at Elko High School and waited after 10:30 p.m. for her to arrive. Lining up around the football field to get in, the crowd was somber and quiet in the rain. Many said they had already voted and were nervous about the fast approaching election results. “I just trust God is going to take care of our country,” said one woman.
Inside, the crowd shook red and blue pom-poms and waved American flags underneath banners that said “Victory in Nevada” and “Country First” as the Elko high school marching band played and cheerleaders led the crowd in chants of “U.S.A. — Palin all the way!”
Local Republicans revved up the crowd by decrying Obama as a socialist who wants to redistribute wealth. The biggest cheer came when Republican state Assemblyman John Carpenter told all the kids at the rally they could skip school tomorrow.
In his remarks in Henderson, McCain touted his own long experience as a public servant, first as a Navy pilot who spent more than five years as a POW and was tortured in Vietnam, and then in Congress.
“My friends I’ve been fighting for this country since I was 17 years old and I have the scars to prove it.”
McCain said he would cut taxes on families and business and encourage the development of alternative energies, as well as offshore drilling for oil and nuclear power plants.
He referred to his favorite Ohio voter, “Joe the plumber,” an Ohio man to whom Obama explained his tax policy of raising taxes for families making more than $250,000 and cutting taxes for nearly everyone else. Obama spoke approvingly of “spreading the wealth,” which McCain has used to accuse him of being a socialist.
“It’s clear what Sen. Obama wants to do — he wants to take money from some people and give it to others,” he said.
(McCain opposed President Bush’s tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans earlier this decade and supported the idea of progressive taxation, which, by definition, redistributes wealth.)
“He’s running for redistributionist-in-chief; I’m running to be commander-in-chief,” he yelled to great cheers.”
If McCain was at all wistful, if he was pondering whether this is one of the last times he’ll ask for votes after more than two decades in politics and two presidential campaigns, he didn’t show it Monday.
He closed his speech with a call to fight, as the crowd offered a throaty approval:
“Fight for a new direction for our country. Fight for what’s right for America. Fight to Clean up the mess of corruption, infighting and selfishness in Washington. Fight for the ideals and character of a free people. Fight for our children’s future.
Fight for justice and opportunity for all. Stand up to defend our country from it’s enemies. Stand up. Stand up and fight.”
Alexandra Berzon contributed to this report fro Elko. David McGrath Schwartz reported from Reno.