updated 9/13/2008 11:34:28 PM ET 2008-09-14T03:34:28

Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin made her first solo campaign appearance outside her home state Saturday, sticking largely to a speech that has boosted her popularity among Republican faithful but drawn criticism for having misstatements.

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The Alaska governor repeated her claim to have killed the now-famous "Bridge to Nowhere," which her running mate, Arizona Sen. John McCain, has derided as wasteful pork. Palin first approved of the project, and turned against it only after it proved to be a political embarrassment.

"We're going to take our case for reform, that needed reform in D.C., to voters of every background, every party, no party," she said. "We're going to shake things up."

Palin spoke less than 20 minutes, using a telemprompter, at the late Saturday event in a roller hockey rink. She drew a loud and boisterous crowd eager to get their first look at the previously unknown candidate who's brought a fresh energy to the McCain bid. A group of roughly 5,000 broke into chants of "Drill, baby, drill!" and "Sarah! Sarah!"

"We are going to drill now to make this nation energy efficient," she said. "You're right, drill, baby, drill!"

Palin's first steps alone on the trail without McCain have been cautious. After a morning rally in Anchorage, the Alaska governor flew to Reno, Nevada and drove 30 miles to the sleepy state capital, the sort of small community she is expected to win over.

The rally was the only public event planned in Nevada before Palin headed to Denver. She had no events scheduled Sunday, and is expected to rejoin McCain on the campaign trail next week.

Palin's bid to become the first female vice president and her appeal as America's latest "everywoman" have remained key elements of her stump speech. She repeated her hopes "to break a glass ceiling once and for all" and was introduced by Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki as a "hockey mom with attitude."

In the cavernous outdoor rink, where women appeared to outnumber men, Palin claimed to see her counterparts.

"I think I'm looking at a whole lot of other hockey moms for McCain out here!" she said, before introducing "Alaska's first dude," her husband, Todd.

The governor has limited her public appearances and chances to mingle with voters or reporters since leaving McCain's side earlier in the week to return home to say goodbye to her son, Track, whose U.S. Army unit was deploying to Iraq.

She arrived Wednesday in Fairbanks to an adoring crowd of 2,000 supporters and the next day spoke, in her capacity as governor, spoke at the deployment ceremony. The military forbids campaigning at such events.

Palin spent much of her time in Alaska preparing for and conducting a series of televised interviews with ABC News.

As she left her home state early Saturday she told a crowd of more than 2,000 that she'd return at the end of the campaign.

"We've got a little travel coming the next 52 days," Palin, Alaska's governor, told a cheering crowd of more than 2,000 gathered at the city convention center. "But I'll be home in November and I'd really like to bring my friend," she said, referring to McCain.

To critics who question whether her experience as a small-town mayor and as governor has prepared her to serve as vice president, she said: "We're small enough to be family, and we can put aside political differences to work as a family."

Asking for prayers and support for the victims of Hurricane Ike, she told supporters that "it's time for Americans to pull together and to help where the need is greatest."

About two hours after Palin's speech Saturday, hundreds of people protesting the policies of Palin lined a busy Anchorage street, waving signs and chanting "Obama!"

In addition to Obama supporters, the protesters included those who don't agree with Palin's positions against abortion, her support for the Iraq war and other issues. One woman held a sign that read, "I'm Bail'in on Palin!" Another said, "Pro Woman, Anti-Palin." Another read, "What About Healthcare?"

"We're not alone. A lot of people are worried about the nomination of Sarah Palin," said rally organizer Angie Doroff, 46, as cars drove by honking their horns in support.

Palin stayed for two days at her Wasilla home on Lake Lucille, missing a hastily planned rally of about 100 supporters gathered at a hotel near her home Friday evening. Organizers had hoped she'd stop by or say a few words through a special video conference connection they had set up.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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