ELON, N.C. - Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said Thursday that God blessed the nation with oil and gas resources and other forms of energy that should be tapped to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign suppliers.
The Alaska governor told supporters at Elon University that she and GOP presidential nominee John McCain will develop new energy sources.
"God has so richly blessed this land, not just with the oil and the gas, but with wind and the hydro, the geothermal and the biomass," Palin said. "We'll tap into those."
Palin said some of the countries the U.S. relies on for energy use their resources "as a weapon." And she said the billions spent each year on oil imports should be circulated within the country "for the sake of the nation's security."
"We need to drill here and drill now," Palin said as the crowd chanted "drill baby, drill." A protester at the back of the crowd shouted "No blood for oil."
Palin has visited North Carolina twice in the past two weeks as McCain's campaign ramps up efforts to defend the state, which has not voted for a Democrat for president since 1976 but is trending toward Democrat Barack Obama this year. Obama is counting on his heavy investment in the state and its bloc of black voters to help turn the tide on Nov. 4.
But Palin remains an asset to McCain in the South, where GOP voters had remained skeptical of him until he put her on the ticket. She appeals to Southern voters by talking about God, gun rights and abortion — shoring up aspects of McCain's lacking Southern credentials.
"She's a hunter. She opposes abortion. She's religious," said John Shirley, 63, of Pittsboro, who cited those issues as among his top concerns. "She reflects a lot of the values we have here in the South."
McCain had struggled to pacify voters of the region, which helped doom his candidacy in 2000 and nearly ruined it again this year.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was this year's Southern favorite, even grabbing 12 percent of the vote in North Carolina's primary two months after he left the race and had endorsed McCain.
Palin helps McCain.
The National Rifle Association, which long has taken issue with some of McCain's positions on gun rights, endorsed the ticket this week and said Palin was an asset. Her drawl, though not Southern, appeals to rural voters who can't stand Washington and Wall Street insiders. Her willingness to discuss her faith has appeal in the Bible Belt.
Last week, she held the campaign's first North Carolina event in five months. Earlier this week, she spoke at a NASCAR track in Richmond, Va.
Country singing star Hank Williams Jr. joined her on stage Thursday, carrying forward the Republican message about Obama's ties college professor William Ayers, who was a member of the violent Weather Underground in the 1960s.
"John and Sarah tell you just what they think. And they're not going to blink," Williams crooned in a song while Palin clapped. "And they don't have terrorist friends to whom their careers are linked."
Voting in North Carolina began Thursday, with hundreds of voters lining up at one-stop voting sites statewide.
Earlier Thursday, Palin stumped in Bangor, Maine, with an eye on winning at least one of the state's four electoral votes. She criticized Obama for not disavowing ACORN, a community activist group under investigation by state and federal authorities for alleged voter registration fraud.
Nearly a dozen states and the FBI are looking into allegations against the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which is registering voters in swing states. ACORN officials have denied charges of concerted, widespread fraud.
"In this election, it's a choice between a candidate who won't disavow a group committing voter fraud, and a leader who won't tolerate voter fraud," Palin said.
Obama has denied any significant ties to ACORN, and has said the group is not advising his campaign.
Maine and Nebraska are the only two states that allocate electoral votes in part by congressional district.