CARSON CITY — Until Saturday afternoon, Yerington resident Laura Tracy never had attended a political rally in her life.
But she had a hard time controlling her emotions and her political sign when she and 5,000 others pushed into a park pavilion to scream for Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin like she was one of The Beatles.
You see, Tracy, like Palin, is a hunter, good enough to have shot a wild turkey for her family’s dinner last Thanksgiving.
For Palin’s first campaign appearance in Nevada, Tracy hoisted a sign that read "Hunter Chick 4 Palin" on one side and "Sarah killed my apathy" on the other.
"I offered her $100 for it, but she refused," said Ralph McMullen, a Reno resident.
Tracy had planned not to vote in November until Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Aug. 29 chose the little-known Alaska governor as his running mate.
"Now I am on fire," Tracy said. "The reason I will vote for McCain is because of Sarah Palin."
Carson City’s Mills Park on Saturday attracted many others who had come down with Sarah fever.
The line waiting in 90-degree heat to go through metal detectors and into the pavilion was 300 yards long at 2 p.m. — nearly four hours before Palin arrived to deliver her 18-minute speech.
The brevity of the speech, during which no mention was made of any issues specific to Nevada, did not diminish the crowd’s fervor. Chants of "Drill, baby, drill! and "Sarah! Sarah!" accompanied her address.
One couple said afterward they were not disappointed, because they had been told in advance that Palin would speak only 20 minutes.
And Palin passed one test that many out-of-state politicians have failed: correctly pronouncing Nevada.
She touched on the same themes she addressed when McCain announced her as his vice presidential choice in Dayton, Ohio, and during her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.
She talked about how she vetoed $500 million in spending by the Alaska Legislature and how, as mayor of Wasilla, she cut taxes. Palin said she and McCain were both mavericks who would change Washington, D.C.
In contrast to the huge Palin turnout in the predominantly Republican Carson City, population 57,000, McCain drew 600 to a town meeting in Reno in August and 300 to a Reno school in May 2007, shortly after he declared his candidacy.
"We are not that huge of John McCain fans, since he isn’t conservative enough," said Cherril Kniffen of Carson City. "We came here today because my 14-year-old daughter wanted to see Sarah."
It wasn’t just women and their daughters who came out Saturday night. Palin drew just as many male supporters.
Joe Alltizer of Minden showed up with his 12-year-old son, Austin.
"I wanted to see Sarah Palin," Austin said. "But I think a lot of my friends like Obama."
Douglas High School cheerleader Meghan Elliott, who turns 18 just in time to vote in November, said she has not decided whether she will vote for Democratic nominee Barack Obama or for the McCain-Palin ticket.
"She sure has made things more interesting," Elliott said about Palin.
Republican politicians on the podium also were jazzed about Palin’s Carson City appearance, the first time since the GOP convention she has appeared without McCain outside of Alaska.
U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.; Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki all delivered brief speeches praising Palin and urging Republicans to show up at the polls.
Conspicuously absent was Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons, who received only a 23 percent favorable rating in a poll last month. Gibbons had a long-planned, out-of-state trip that he could not change, according to his communications director, Ben Kieckhefer.
Former Assemblyman Don Gustavson, R-Reno, watched with the crowd and predicted the cheering will turn into Republican votes in November.
"She has energized the party," said Gustavson, seeking to return to the Assembly. "She will help me in my race and all other Republicans. She is the greatest thing to happen to the Republican Party since Ronald Reagan."
Nevada Republicans need her help. Two years ago at election time, they held a 6,998-voter registration advantage over Democrats. Now Democrats hold a 60,670 voter lead.
Outside the pavilion, a crowd of about 100 Obama supporters shouted "Obama! Obama!" in a futile attempt to drown out the cheering for Palin.
"I am a woman, and I played hockey when I was a kid," said protester Indigo Cantor of Carson City. "To see a woman in that position is a great thing. She speaks to the average person. But she is not qualified for the job. For her to think she is remotely capable of handling the job is insane. She is no match for (Russian Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin. She should have had the courage to say no when McCain offered her the job."
Another protester, Janna Victoria Menard of Markleeville, Calif., wandered among the crowd of Palin fans holding up a graphic photo of dead wolves in Alaska to protest Palin’s support of hunting the animals.
"Some people have said some very aggressive things to me," Menard said.
Contact Review-Journal Capital Bureau reporter Ed Vogel at evogel @reviewjournal.com, or 775-687-3900.
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