BANGOR, Maine — It seems her husband was simply the warm-up act.
Five days after Todd Palin spent the weekend campaigning in Maine, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin will hold a rally Thursday at Bangor International Airport.
Palin’s visit was announced early Monday morning by the Maine Republican Party, which has been trying hard lately to convince voters that Palin and Sen. John McCain can win here.
“It’s fun to be a part of a battleground state,” said Rep. Josh Tardy, R-Newport, McCain’s co-chairman for Maine. “When we started talking the last few weeks about putting more resources in Maine, we meant it.”
If Todd Palin’s down-to-earth, snowmobile-riding personality played well in eastern Maine over the weekend, his wife’s folksy, working mother, moose-hunting affectations are likely to be just as popular, pundits say.
“I think it makes more sense to have [the Palins] here than Senator McCain himself,” said Jim Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington. “She can probably energize the local party base and get people fired up in a way that [McCain] cannot.”
The Alaska governor already was scheduled to stop in New Hampshire on Wednesday, so a trip to Maine was not exactly a stretch. She is expected to fly into BIA early Thursday and speak at 9 a.m. at the airport’s maintenance hangar.
“We started issuing tickets Monday morning and so far we’ve seen enormous interest,” Jeff Grappone, McCain’s New England spokesman, said Monday afternoon. “Of course, hundreds of Mainers turned out to see her husband campaign, and we expect a crowd of thousands for Governor Palin.”
At the Maine Republican Party headquarters in Bangor on Monday, tickets were going fast.
“We’ll keep giving them away until they tell us to stop,” said Shelley Wirth, a volunteer and McCain-Palin supporter. “This is exciting for us.”
Joan Schoppe of Hermon and her husband, who are registered Republicans, received an e-mail Monday morning about Palin’s visit.
“I think my husband is her biggest fan,” Schoppe said while picking up her tickets. “I would have voted for [McCain] either way, but I think [Palin] sealed the deal for my husband. We’re really hoping they take the state.”
At the very least, McCain’s camp is hoping to win Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. Because Maine splits its four electoral votes, the Republicans could net one vote with a win in the 2nd District, which is typically the more conservative of the two.
Two polls taken last month showed Sen. Barack Obama with a five- and four-point edge in Maine. Christian Potholm, a Bowdoin College political science professor, however, pointed out that a public survey has not been taken in Maine since the recent economic crisis peaked.
“I’d be stunned if Obama’s lead was less than 10 points this week,” he said. “I think there were a lot of [Republican] jaws dragging a little after last week. But a week is a long time in politics and we have three left.”
Maine has a high percentage of unenrolled voters who may decide their choice in the next three weeks.
While the state has been abuzz with high-profile visits from the McCain campaign, Obama has yet to announce any surrogate visits to the Pine Tree State. Toby McGrath, Obama’s state director for Maine, said the Democrat’s focus is, and will remain, on the economy.
“The McCain-Palin ticket is offering more of the same failed economic policies that have caused home heating oil costs to skyrocket, retirement accounts to disappear, and jobs to be outsourced,” he said. “Barack Obama has laid out policies that will grow our middle class and strengthen the economy. That is the kind of change Mainers are looking for and need from our next president.”
Jessica Santillo, Obama’s communications director for Maine, also said the state campaign has a superior field operation that has been up and running since June.
“We feel good about our chances here,” she said.
Melcher agreed that the Democrats are in the enviable position of being ahead in many polls, in both battleground states and national surveys.
“They can be picky; they can play a little defense,” he said. “I’m sure they will send somebody [to Maine], but I don’t know that they need as big a name.”
Gov. Palin’s visit comes on the heels of her husband’s trip to Maine. Todd Palin spent Saturday and Sunday in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, holding events at the Moosehead Trading Post in Palmyra and at Harry’s Motor Sports in Presque Isle. He also made an impromptu stop at Dysart’s Restaurant in Hermon.
“He was very well-received,” Tardy said. “Certainly the sportsmen and women in the state and the citizens who value gun-owner rights feel like they have a lot in common with [the Palins]. And I think the reform message of Senator McCain and Governor Palin is one that really resonates here in Maine.”
Ticket Distribution Sites
Tickets are available for pick up at one of the designated Maine Victory offices between 9:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. EDT.
Bangor Victory Office, 543 Broadway, Bangor; Lewiston Victory Office, 223 Lisbon St., Lewiston; Portland Victory Office, 11 Baxter Blvd., Portland; Machias Victory Office, 247 U.S. Route 1, Machias; Caribou Victory Office, 25 Sweden St Suite D, Caribou.