Resembling the Republican national convention on a miniature scale, Senator John McCain, supported by his former vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin, stumped at Mesa’s Dobson High School on Saturday and wasted little time in attacking the policies of President Barack Obama.
Before a capacity crowd of more than 2,000 inside the school’s gymnasium, they each took swings at Obama, and shunned the recently signed $938 billion healthcare reform bill derisively deemed by Republicans as “Obamacare.”
Palin, a Tea Party favorite, is lending her popularity to McCain’s campaign. McCain has been criticized by some in his party for being too much of a centrist and her appearance was meant to shore up support among more conservative Republicans.
Neither of them mentioned former congressman and radio talk show J.D. Hayworth by name. Hayworth is McCain’s Republican opponent in the August primary. Instead, themes centered on spending and the importance of national security.
“I have a formidable opponent and a challenging election ahead,” was as close as McCain got to mentioning Hayworth near the end of his speech.
Their rally at Dobson was McCain’s and Palin’s second public appearance together since their concession speech in the 2008 presidential election. It was Palin’s first Arizona appearance since signing her book at Costco in Tempe on Dec. 1.
Following similar talking points they used during a rally in Tucson on Friday, the duo expressed disdain for the healthcare reform bill as they led the crowd in a chant, “Repeal and Replace.”
Palin began her speech by asking the crowd, '"Arizona, do you love your Freedom?"
“We’ve come a long way since the 2008 election,” Palin said. “When we add up all the votes, this guy is going to win this time. Arizonans, please, for the sake of our country and for your good state, send him back to the United States Senate.”
About five minutes into her speech, Palin, who was telling the crowd that McCain is a man of honor and his word, was interrupted by 19-year-old Chandler resident Ethan Elder, who stood up and screamed, "Neo-con" (neo-conservative) at McCain. Elder also shouted that McCain had sold out to big business and corporations.
As Elder, a student at Arizona State University, was placed in a headlock and escorted out by McCain’s campaign volunteers, Palin said, “Stick around and listen to what we have to say. You might learn something.”
Soon after, a 19-year-old friend of Elder’s who was not identified, was pulled by the hair and removed after he shouted that Republicans had overspent on the war in Iraq. Police handcuffed both men but did not arrest them, said Sgt. Ed Wessing, a Mesa police spokesman.
Soon after, McCain began his speech and drew laughter from the crowd when he said, “Isn’t she magnificent?,” of Palin.
Speaking with a fierceness and urgency not seen since the presidential election, McCain vowed that Republicans will gain control of the Senate in the November election.
“We didn’t lose control,” McCain said. “Spending was out of control, and that’ s why we lost. We have out of control spending and we’ll be $1.4 trillion in debt this year and $1.5 trillion in debt next year. They’re (Democrats) spending money like a drunken sailor and the bar is still open. We cannot afford this in a distressed economy."
McCain also vowed that America will win the war in Afghanistan if troops stay the course. He thanked the veterans in the crowd for their service.
“It will be a tough race, and I know I have to earn every vote,” McCain said.
After their speeches, Palin and McCain shook hands with audience members and signed autographs.
Although most people in attendance said they were at the rally to see Palin, David French, of Phoenix, said he went to see the excitement surrounding the political process.
It’s exciting to see people re-engaged in the political process,” French said. “Who would’ve thought the Republicans would be where they’re at now after a year ago?"
Other Republicans who spoke during the rally included U.S. Reps. Jeff Flake and John Shadegg; state House Speaker Kirk Adams and Mesa Mayor Scott Smith.
Sisters Reeves, 11, and Reagan Blackwell, 15, of Chandler, were able to get Palin’s book, “Going Rogue” autographed by Palin’s husband, Todd, for their grandmother, Alice Vander Grift, also of Chandler.
Reeves said she had to work hard to get the signature.
“I tried to go under legs, but the space was too small,” Reeves said. “My uncle tried to reach me over the fence, but I got in trouble.”