PHOENIX — Sarah Palin urged a cheering crowd Friday to vote for her former running mate John McCain, lending much-needed support as he faces the toughest re-election battle of his long career in the U.S. Senate.
"If you want conservative solutions and common sense leadership ... to fight for what this state and country needs, I'm asking you to vote for John McCain," Palin told several thousand people packed into a fairground in Tucson, Ariz.
"Let's send the Maverick back to the Senate," she added, in her first appearance at the stump with McCain since he lost the November 2008 presidential election to Democrat Barack Obama and Palin lost her bid to be vice president to Joe Biden.
McCain and Palin ran as a "pair of Mavericks" then. McCain, a moderate Republican, now faces what analysts say is his hardest challenge yet in Arizona, the state he has represented in the Senate since 1986.
Last month, combative talk show host and former congressman J.D. Hayworth threw his hat into the ring, appealing to the party's right-wing base in the desert state.
Pitching himself as the "Consistent Conservative," Hayworth is assailing McCain's long record of working with Democrats who control an increasingly partisan Congress.
Bitter battle ahead
Analysts have predicted it will be a bitter, hard-fought campaign that will lay bare ideological fault lines in the Republican Party.
The Arizona primary election is Aug. 24 to choose the party candidate who will run in November's elections for about a third of the 100 seats in the Senate and all 435 seats in the House.
McCain sought to burnish his credentials with conservatives Friday, pledging to fight government borrowing he dubbed "generational theft," curb the "earmarks" lawmakers use to tuck pet projects into spending bills and fight to reverse Obama's signature healthcare overhaul signed into law this week.
"There's a revolution going on out there, a peaceful revolution," McCain told the flag-waving supporters, urging them to send him back to the Senate.
"I will go back and I will lead the fight to bring this country back and keep your freedoms where they belong — and that's with you," McCain thundered.
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Palin's star power
To shore up his right flank in the primary election, McCain has drawn on the support of popular party conservatives, including new Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown and Palin, who is appearing alongside him at two rallies this weekend.
Palin's star power proved a clear draw among the crowd in Tucson, some of whom said they had turned out for a glimpse of the former Alaska governor propelled to celebrity by the 2008 presidential campaign.
" Video: McCain’s seat challenged I just wanted to come and see Sarah Palin," said Mary Sparks, as she stood among supporters at the rally, some in cowboy hats.
"I just think she's great, I read her book and I'd like to see her as president of the United States."
Kaylie Chriss, a registered Republican, said she remained undecided about who to vote for in the primary election but felt Palin's appearance would boost McCain.
"It definitely helps him," she said. "It gets him a lot more support from people who may not have heard of him."
McCain and Palin are scheduled to campaign together at a rally in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa Saturday.
Palin has said she will campaign for other Republican candidates in the congressional elections and announced this week she would work to unseat 20 House Democrats.
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