PALMYRA, Maine — Alaska’s “First Dude” Todd Palin received an enthusiastic welcome to Maine Saturday afternoon while attending a barbecue and pressing the flesh at the Moosehead Trading Post.
Palin, husband of Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, apparently prefers the “First Dude” moniker, as many of the women in the estimated crowd of 500 that filled the trading post’s parking lot in anticipation of pallin’ around with Palin, were wearing pink sweat shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Maine’s 2nd District welcomes Alaska’s 1st Dude.”
Palin wasn’t on hand to give a formal political speech, but he did say a few words about his wife, Sarah, and Republican presidential candidate John McCain before wading into the crowd to shake hands and sign autographs.
Political observers believe McCain has a chance to win the state’s electoral vote from Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. Palin’s visit to Central Maine and another planned for Presque Isle on Sunday were scheduled to take advantage of that possibility.
“It’s great to be in Maine.” Palin told the cheering crowd. “It reminds me a lot of Alaska, but you’ve got more colors in your leaves than we do.”
He said that when it came to getting results, his wife and McCain “can point to their record, unlike others who can’t point to their record.”
Palin received another loud cheer when he reminded the gathering that the McCain-Palin ticket had received the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.
“Sarah and I are very active outdoors, hunting, and it’s a great endorsement,” he said.
Reacting to the crowd’s support, Palin added that “Just from the looks of you, you guys are excited about this race.”
The crowd was an even mix of men and women and included youngsters in strollers and seniors using wheelchairs. Parked cars stretched for more than a mile along Oxbow Road in front of the trading post as people of all ages took advantage of the beautiful fall day and the free hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, apples and cold drinks at the event.
Stephanie Bridges of Corinna spent three hours in a cloud of smoke over a hot grill flipping burgers as fast as her nephew, Christian Brown, could run them to the serving table. Bridges, who works at the Village Square Restaurant, said she volunteered her time because it was a good cause.
“I’m a old hand at flipping burgers, but my grill doesn’t give off as much smoke as this one does,” she said.
Free food aside, most of those who attended the rally said they were compelled to show up because of their belief in the McCain-Palin message.
“He spent five and one-half years in a prison camp in Hanoi,” Korean War Army veteran Bob Lucas of Dexter said of McCain. “He deserves this. I don’t have to say any more.”
Another Army veteran, Lee Norton of West Gardiner, said he rode to the rally on his three-wheel Honda Goldwing solely because of Sarah Palin. He said he served at Fort Richardson in Alaska during the 1970s and that the corruption of the oil industry was prevalent even then.
“I didn’t know how I was going to vote but as soon as McCain brought her on, it was like a breath of fresh air. She took on the oil companies and cleaned things up,” Norton said. “This is the first political rally in my life. I heard it on the news and decided to come up.”
Sandra Doyan of Winslow said she and her husband, Bob, support McCain-Palin “because of taxes. He’s not taxing us and I like that. I like his policy on drilling for oil along with alternatives. I also believe in putting up more nuclear plants.
Christine Mathies of Hartland said she supported McCain because “I think he’s somebody I think will protect our country. I just believe he’s the right man for the job. Keeping our country strong is important to me. Keeping it strong and not socialistic.”
There also was a small group of protesters at the rally, including Katrina Bisheimer of Bucksport, who was ordered off the property by sheriff’s deputies when she attempted to walk through the crowd carrying a sign reading “Women and Polar Bears against Palin” and “Freedom for Women and Polar Bears.”
“Another view should be allowed to be expressed,” she said as a deputy led her to the perimeter of the property.
Palin’s appearance in Maine came shortly after the Alaska legislature released a report on his wife’s activities involving attempts to fire state trooper Michael Wooton, who had been involved in a messy divorce with Palin’s sister. The report found that Gov. Palin abused the powers of her office by pressuring those working for her to fire her former brother-in-law.
When Republican party spokesperson Jennifer Webber was asked if Todd Palin would respond to the investigative report, she referred reporters to a statement issued by the campaign claiming that “the governor acted within her proper and lawful authority” and that the inquiry was led by supporters of Barack Obama and that the Palins were “completely justified” in their concerns about trooper Wooton.
“I’m not surprised that he won’t talk to the press,” observed Doug Hufnagel of Belfast. “It seems to be a family trait, fending off the press.”