BANGOR, Maine — Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin spoke about the role of government, gun rights and the promise of America in addressing thousands of people Thursday at a campaign rally for John McCain’s presidential campaign.
Addressing about 6,000 people in a hangar at the Bangor International Airport, the Alaska governor on Thursday stuck to familiar themes of limited government, lower taxes and the right to bear arms. She listed energy and government reform among her top priorities.
“On Nov. 4, it’s going to come down to what you believe in,” she said. “What John McCain and I believe in is what Ronald Reagan believed in.”
“America is not the problem — America is the solution,” she added.
McCain’s campaign has focused resources on Maine in hopes of coming away with at least one electoral vote on Election Day.
The campaign believes Palin, a moose-hunting hockey mom whose snowmobile-racing husband visited the state last weekend, will connect with voters in a region where hunting, fishing and snowmobiling are popular.
Before Palin’s speech, country music star Lee Greenwood sang the “The Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless the USA.”
Palin spoke about the affinity between Maine and Alaska.
“I feel like I’m at home. I see the Carhartts and the steel-toed boots…and the NRA hats,” she said, referring to the work clothes brand and National Rifle Association supporters.
Palin said the people of Maine know that high taxes are not the way to “grow the economy.” Maine’s taxes are among the nation’s highest.
“The solution is to stop spending so much doggone money,” she said.
Luke Laplante drove nearly 200 miles from the northern Maine town of Hamlin to see Palin speak because “history’s being made.”
He said he thinks the McCain-Palin ticket is better prepared to take care of the economy. “Plus, she’s new blood,” he said.
McCain can win one electoral vote if he takes Maine’s 2nd Congressional District which, like Alaska, looms large, the biggest in geographic terms east of the Mississippi, a patchwork of forests and lakes that are blanketed by snow for much of the year.
“Certainly the 2nd District is within his sights. He can win this district,” said Mark Brewer, political science professor at the University of Maine.
Bob Meyers, executive director of the 30,000-member Maine Snowmobile Association, says it’s no surprise that the Palins will find kindred spirits in the state’s rural north.
“I can understand how the lifestyle of the Palins in particular would resonate with the folks up there,” Meyers said.
Focusing on a single district could make sense in Maine, one of only two states — Nebraska is the other — that allows its electoral votes to be split. Under the system adopted in 1969 in Maine, even a statewide loser could grab one of the state’s four electoral votes.
In a close race, Republicans can’t afford to write off a single electoral vote, but Republicans hope that a strong showing in the 2nd District will help them sweep the entire state, where unenrolled or “independent” voters comprise the largest bloc of voters.
Maine last voted for a Republican for president in 1988, when Kennebunkport summer resident George H.W. Bush won the state. And political scientists say that’s unlikely to change, even if McCain and Palin managed to carry the 2nd District.
Sandy Maisel, director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs at Colby College in Waterville, acknowledged that the 2nd District by reputation is more conservative and has more evangelical Christians than the 1st District.
Maisel said he still believes that Barack Obama will take all four Maine votes but doesn’t rule out the chance of McCain riding the coattails of Republican incumbent Susan Collins, a native of northern Maine, in Maine’s hotly contested Senate race.
Brewer agreed. “I don’t think it’s impossible, but boy I think it’s unlikely (McCain-Palin) will take the entire state,” he said.
Democrat Barack Obama has no plans to cede the state. Democrats have more than 30 offices set up across the state to promote Obama and other candidates, said Jessica Santillo, Maine communications director of Obama for America.