Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008 | 12:49 a.m.
ELKO -- "There is only one man in this race who has ever really fought for you and he has the courage to keep on fighting for you. That man is John McCain. God bless America. God bless Nevada."
With those words, the whirlwind two-month journey that sent a nearly unknown figure from the governor's mansion of Alaska to the set of "Saturday Night Live" and every swing state in between made its final stop before Election Day. Vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin showed up late Monday in this mining and ranching town, just before heading back to Alaska to cast her vote.
Palin arrived with her husband, Todd Palin, parents and in-laws at 11:30 p.m. -– about an hour later than scheduled -- at the Elko High School gym, where a crowd of about 2,700 was growing restless but became animated when she appeared on stage with her family.
"I'm just so proud to be Sarah's father," Chuck Heath told the crowd before Palin spoke. "You know, years ago I taught her how to field dress a moose. But tomorrow I want you to watch her field dress a donkey."
Palin had already been to Lakewood, Ohio, Jefferson City, Mo., Dubuque, Iowa, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Reno -- all on Tuesday.
John McCain also appeared in Henderson earlier in the evening.
Palin acknowledged that she and McCain are trailing in the polls.
"Todd and I and in fact our whole family, we spent a heck of a lot of time in basketball gyms," Palin said. "Victory is what we fight for. It's what we're fighting for tomorrow. And Todd and I, we both have been in positions on basketball teams of being the underdog ... senior year I was co-captain of the basketball team and we were underdogs and we went on to win the state championships."
Palin equated Barack Obama's tax plan with socialism -- a common theme in the campaign the last few weeks -- and asked those in the crowd to tell their friends and neighbors about it.
She also made a nod to this area's dominant industry, adding "mine, baby, mine" to the common Republican chant "drill, baby, drill." And she pointedly said the "best of America" is found in the people who "mine our resources," among other professions not located in Washington, D.C.
Local Republican leaders had begged the campaign to send either Palin or McCain to Elko and cautioned it not to become too complacent in this Republican stronghold.
Democrats are campaigning heavily here for the first time in ages, and they believe they have a shot to narrow the 60-percentage point schism here that existed between George W. Bush and John Kerry in 2004. Democrats are hoping that could help put them over the top in Nevada.
Obama called himself an "honorary Elkonian" when he was here in September, his third visit.
Lining up around the football field to get into the gym, the Palin 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," one woman said.
Inside, as they waited for Palin, the crowd shook red and blue pom-poms 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 worked to calm the crowd's concerns that McCain and Palin might lose on Tuesday.
"You know all the pundits and pollsters say this race is over, but they haven't visited the heartland," said Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea. "They haven't visited Elko."
One of the bigger cheers of the night came when Assemblyman John Carpenter told the kids at the rally they could skip school tomorrow.
As the crowd filed out, just after Palin left the stage, Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" played over the sound system.