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CAMPAIGN '08: THE REPUBLICANS

Palin gets a warm welcome back home

The return to Alaska is her first solo campaign foray since joining the GOP ticket.

September 11, 2008|Stephen Braun | Times Staff Writer

FAIRBANKS, ALASKA — Gov. Sarah Palin returned triumphant to her home state Wednesday for the first time since she was named to the Republican ticket with John McCain, and received thunderous cheers as she promised 3,000 supporters: "I will do my best to do Alaska proud."

Palin reprised many passages from her vice presidential nomination acceptance speech at the party's convention in St. Paul, Minn. But she steered away from explicit attacks on the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, instead gushing about her home state and its sudden role in the limelight.

"It's going to be awesome to spend a couple of days back here, getting in touch with all my friends," Palin said to raucous cheers inside a vault-like aviation hangar near Fairbanks International Airport.

Palin's return to Alaska marked her first solo campaign foray after spending the last week in tightly choreographed appearances with McCain.

Aside from an interview with People magazine on the day McCain introduced her as his vice presidential choice, Palin has been off-limits to media questions. She remained sequestered for her flight to Fairbanks.

Her return to Alaska is part of a carefully orchestrated introduction to the media. While here, she is scheduled to talk with ABC News anchor Charles Gibson today and Friday.

Wednesday evening, the governor spent much of her 20-minute speech lauding McCain, his prisoner-of-war past and his Senate record as a contrarian who has both bucked his party and sought its backing.

"John McCain," Palin said, "is a maverick of the Senate riding to the White House."

Palin cited her own role in taking on "the old oil monopoly," which resulted in the state reaping a share of millions in oil pipeline profits that are being returned to Alaska residents as rebates. And she prompted a round of cheers by telling the crowd that the state's vast oil and gas reserves are a prime example of the need to seek more energy sources.

"Everywhere we go, they're chanting, 'Drill, baby, drill," she said.

And in a passage aimed at her welcoming crowd and the hundreds of Christian conservatives who had turned out for her arrival, Palin praised "this great land of Alaska that God has so richly blessed."

Palin arrived on a McCain-Palin campaign jet from Washington, D.C., with a stop in Montana to refuel. As confetti flew and a college band played, she walked out of the plane with her husband, Todd, whom she called "the first dude," and three of their children, Piper, Willow and infant son Trig.

The crowd of Republican stalwarts, curiosity-seekers and tourists chanted, "Sarah! Sarah!" and pressed toward a makeshift stage inside the cavernous hangar, which was festooned with two massive U.S. flags. Several Fairbanks residents covered an old truck bed with homemade banners bearing slogans including "Palin Power" and "Sarah is one of us!"

"This is our girl!" enthused Dory Powell, 67, a retired college purchasing agent. "She's brought the Republican Party to life." She called Palin's addition to the ticket a "win-win situation for Alaska. If she wins, we get her in the White House, and if she loses, well, we get her back home here with us."

Scores of tourists on their way through Alaska's interior showed up to cheer along with the locals. Marlene Perna and her husband, Joe, were among several couples from suburban Phoenix who interrupted their sightseeing to take in Palin's homecoming.

"Sarah brings honesty and know-how to straighten out Washington," Perna said. "And she's not afraid of anyone. I want a pit bull on the ticket."

Some excited mothers brought young daughters who wore T-shirts proclaiming: "When I grow up, I want to be just like Sarah Palin."

Ronetta O'Connor, a Fairbanks homemaker, had her two daughters, MacKenzie, 8, and Keira, 2, in tow. "We wanted my girls to see a little bit of history," O'Connor said.

The O'Connors learned about the event from an automated call from the local Republican Party. "I was so excited," said MacKenzie, who fielded the call before her mother, a loyal GOP voter, heard the message. "I want her to win very much!"

Matt Carter, a 46-year-old mechanic who works two-week shifts on the oil pipeline in Prudhoe Bay, took advantage of his down time to drive from his home in North Pole, a town outside Fairbanks. "I watched her at the Republican convention on TV and I had the biggest swell of pride since I heard [Ronald] Reagan speak," said Carter, a registered independent.

Carter said he liked Palin's passages Wednesday night that echoed her acceptance speech. But he said he still wanted to hear "more meat and potatoes about what she's going to do about energy. I'm tired of seeing us pouring money into Saudi Arabia and Iran, and want to hear what her proposals are."

John Strong, 58, an Alaska Airlines worker, said he was already convinced by Palin's energy stance -- impressed by her ability to wring more pipeline revenue for Alaska from the major oil companies: "Lookit, if she can twist Big Oil's tail, she can do anything."

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steve.braun@latimes.com

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