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CAMPAIGN '08: THE REPUBLICANS

Palin steps out solo in Nevada

The vice presidential nominee promises ethics reform, lower taxes and energy self-sufficiency.

September 14, 2008|Dan Morain and Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writers

CARSON CITY, NEV. — Seeking to win this swing state's five electoral votes, Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin made her first solo campaign stop in the lower 48 states Saturday, promising ethics reform, lower taxes and energy self-sufficiency.

Palin, greeted by chants of "Sarah, Sarah," spoke to about 3,500 people for about 20 minutes. She was interrupted frequently by cheers and applause. And she led the audience in the now-familiar refrain: "Drill, baby, drill."

"In a McCain-Palin administration, we're going to expand opportunity for new energy development," the Alaska governor said, promising she and John McCain would push to "drill now to make this nation energy-self-sufficient."

Palin did not mention Barack Obama or Joe Biden, a departure from her early days on the trail when she harshly criticized the Democratic presidential ticket.

But she did take a veiled swipe at Michelle Obama, saying that John McCain, "like you and like me, is always proud to be an American." (In February, Michelle Obama controversially said that "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country.")

After her speech, Palin and her husband, Todd -- whom she called him the "first dude" and who she noted is a United Steelworkers union member -- spent more than half an hour signing autographs and shaking hands before heading to two more swing states, Colorado and Ohio.

"I love her," said Juliene Allman, who manages a dental office in Reno. "She is an all-American woman. She is like all of us."

It might seem odd that Palin made Nevada's capital city her first solo stop outside of Alaska, but Carson City is in a battleground region in a battleground state. Obama is to visit this week.

The state is narrowly divided. Bill Clinton carried it in 1992 and 1996. George W. Bush won it in 2000 and 2004, each time by about 21,500 more votes than his foes.

The visits underscore how close the outcome could be on Nov. 4.

"George Bush won our state because of rural Nevada, twice," Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said in a warm-up for Palin on Saturday, urging the crowd to "turn out like never before."

Thanks to a labor-backed voter registration effort, Democrats have expanded their ranks to 458,900, compared with 397,200 Republicans. Roughly a fifth of the state's voters, or about 150,000, are nonpartisan.

Obama is almost certain to win in Las Vegas and Clark County, where organized labor representing casino workers is strong and Democrats hold a 92,200-voter advantage. But even there, more than 100,000 voters are registered with no party preference.

The McCain-Palin ticket will probably win in rural parts of the state.

That means the Carson City-Reno-Sparks area could tip the balance. Republicans hold an edge, 97,000 voters to 89,000 Democrats, in the area encompassing Carson City and Washoe County, where Reno and Sparks are located.

"Washoe County is where it is going to be decided," said political scientist David Damore, of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

Obama and McCain both are airing television ads here. Obama is attacking McCain for supporting nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain -- not a popular stand in the Silver State. McCain's ads charge that Obama intends to raise taxes, also unpopular in a state with no income tax. Obama has vowed to raise taxes only for the wealthiest Americans.

Like Republicans, Democrats view Reno, Sparks and Carson City as battleground cities. The union UNITE-Here, which represents casino workers, has undertaken a significant independent campaign in northern Nevada. It has targeted roughly 35,000 voters, most of whom have Spanish surnames.

"If you don't move the needle in Washoe County, it undercuts what you can do in Las Vegas," said Jack Gribbon, the organizer overseeing the union's independent campaign.

In her remarks, Palin delivered several feel-good lines: "America is an exceptional country and you are all exceptional Americans." Perhaps she aimed to differentiate herself from Obama, who sometimes talks about "ordinary Americans."

She also repeated two of her most popular lines: that she turned down federal earmarks for the "bridge to nowhere" and that she put the state-owned jet on EBay. By the time Palin canceled the bridge between Ketchikan and its island airport, it had become clear Congress would not pay for it. Alaska did take the money that had been earmarked for the bridge and spent it elsewhere. And the plane failed to sell on EBay; a broker later sold it at a loss.

She also said she had confronted the oil industry in her state. "Whatever they're running now, it is not the state of Alaska," she said.

On Friday, all Alaska residents had received checks for $3,300, thanks in part to a rebate that Palin had pushed to help cover high energy costs. "They can spend it better than government can," she said, and promised "tax reform" if she and McCain win. "We're trusting people with their money."

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