CAPE GIRARDEAU — Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin received a rousing welcome Thursday in southeast Missouri, telling an overflow crowd that John McCain will fix the economy, lead America to victory in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and move toward energy independence.
The Alaska governor spoke to several thousand people at the Show Me Center on the campus of Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau. The arena holds a little more than 7,000 people and was full. In fact, hundreds more watched on closed circuit TV in an adjoining recreation center. One organizer said 13,000 tickets were given away.
Palin was interrupted at times by chants of "Sarah, Sarah" and "USA! USA!" during her 25-minute speech. She criticized Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama several times, but did not make reference to Obama's past associations with '60s-era radical Bill Ayers or Palestinian-American professor Rashid Khalidi, who has been critical of Israel.
Mostly, Palin focused on how she and McCain would tackle America's problems.
"Our ticket has the track record that proves we can do this," she said. "We haven't just been talking the talk. We've been walking the walk."
Palin said "Country First" is more than McCain's campaign slogan. "That's going to be printed on every page in the employee handbook" if he's elected, she said.
Palin criticized Obama's economic plan. She recalled his conversation with the now-famous Samuel J. Wurzelbacher — Joe the Plumber.
"Remember good old Joe the Plumber there in Toledo, Ohio," Palin said. "Joe the Plumber said to him, 'that plan sounded like socialism.' Now is no time to experiment with that."
Palin said one of McCain's first missions will be to lessen dependence on foreign oil. She pushed for clean coal technology, saying it would not only produce more energy but create jobs, drawing cheers in a region not far from southern Illinois' coal mines.
Palin criticized Obama for failing to support the surge in Iraq.
"We need someone who can talk about the wars that America is fighting and isn't afraid to use the word victory," Palin said.
"Just once I would love to hear Barack Obama say he wants America to win."
Southeast Missouri is a conservative, heavily Republican region. George W. Bush carried nearly 69 percent of the vote in Cape Girardeau County in 2004. It's the hometown of conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
It took hours to get through traffic jams and lines outside the arena to see Palin. Many inside said it was worth the wait. Some waved signs reading "Joe the Farmer," ''Keep Mo. Red," and "Sarah Rocks."
"I think she's the best thing that's happened to this campaign," 20-year Navy veteran Bill Costello, 50, of nearby Jackson, said. "Me and my particular clique — we aren't voting for John McCain, we're voting for Sarah."
Sheila English, 54, of Carbondale, Ill., wore a T-shirt that made reference to an Obama comment earlier in the campaign: "A small-town, religion-clinging, gun-toting American who's voting for McCain-Palin." She called herself a die-hard Palin fan.
"That's my No. 1," English said. "She stands for what I stand for. She doesn't believe in abortion. She's a Christian."
Palin's visit came on the same day that both Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden, were set to campaign in Missouri — Obama at a late-night rally at MU in Columbia and Biden at a morning event in the St. Louis suburb of Arnold.
In a statement, Missouri Democratic Party spokesman Jack Cardetti said, "We have tried it George Bush and John McCain's way for the past eight years and it just hasn't worked for Missouri families."
While polls generally show McCain trailing in the polls nationally, Costello puts little stock in polls.
"The only poll that counts is next Tuesday," he said.