Image: Tea party rally in Searchlight, Nevada
Robyn Beck  /  AFP - Getty Images
Oscar Murdock from Temecula, Calif., holds signs before the start of a tea party rally in Searchlight, Nev., on Saturday. staff and news service reports
updated 3/27/2010 9:13:33 PM ET 2010-03-28T01:13:33

Sarah Palin exhorted thousands of conservative tea party activists assembled in the Nevada desert Saturday to "fire" Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats from Congress in the upcoming national election.

The wind whipped U.S. flags behind the former Alaska governor as she stood on a makeshift stage, holding a microphone and her notes as she spoke to the cheering crowd in Reid's hometown. She told them Reid, fighting for re-election, is "gambling away our future."

"Someone needs to tell him, this is not a crapshoot," Palin said.

At least 9,000 people streamed into tiny Searchlight, a former mining town 60 miles south of Las Vegas, bringing American flags, "Don't Tread on Me" signs and outspoken anger toward Reid, President Barack Obama and the health care overhaul.

Palin told them the big-government, big-debt spending spree of the Senate majority leader, Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is over.

"You're fired!" Palin said.

A string of polls has shown Reid is vulnerable in politically moderate Nevada after pushing Obama's agenda in Congress. His standing has also been hurt by Nevada's double-digit unemployment and record foreclosure and bankruptcy rates.

The Searchlight native responded with sarcasm to the large crowd gathered in the hardscrabble town of about 1,000 he grew up in.

"I'm happy so many people came to see my hometown of Searchlight and spend their out-of-state money, especially in these tough economic times," Reid said Saturday in a statement released through his Senate campaign. "This election will be decided by Nevadans, not people from other states who parachuted in for one day to have a tea party."

Traffc jam
Traffic on a highway leading into the town was backed up more than two miles Saturday afternoon as people gathered for the rally, which kicks off a 42-city bus tour that ends in Washington on April 15, tax day.

It's been called a conservative Woodstock, and takes place just days after the historic health care vote that ushered in near-universal medical coverage and divided Congress and the nation. The vote was followed by reports of threats and vandalism aimed at some Washington lawmakers, mostly Democrats who supported the new law.

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Conservative columnist Andrew Breitbart disputed accounts that tea party activists in Washington shouted racial epithets at black members of Congress amid the health care debate, although he didn't provide any evidence.

"I know you're not a racist group," he told the crowd. 

Video: Hecklers disrupt Palin's speech

Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, appeared after spending Friday and Saturday morning campaigning for Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who led the 2008 ticket. McCain is seeking re-election but faces a Republican primary challenge from the right by former congressman and radio talk show host JD Hayworth.

At a campaign stop Saturday morning in Mesa, Palin urged McCain supporters to help put government "back on the side of the people" and praised McCain as a hero "who can lead us to a brighter future."

Her speech was disrupted twice by hecklers who were forcibly removed from the room. "Young man, stick around and listen to what we’re going to say. Maybe you’ll learn something," she told the first heckler.

Now a Fox News analyst and potential 2012 presidential candidate, Palin faced criticism after posting a map on her Facebook page that had circles and cross hairs over 20 Democratic districts. She also sent a tweet saying, "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!"

She said Saturday she wasn't inciting violence, just trying to inspire people to get involved.

"We're not going to sit down and shut up. Thank you for standing up," Palin said.

Peaceful rally
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department sent officers to patrol the crowd, but aside from a report of fistfight that officers didn't see, the event appeared peaceful. Officer Jay Rivera said there had been no arrests.

The tea party movement is a far-flung coalition of conservative groups angered by Washington spending, rising taxes and the growth and reach of government. It takes its name from the Boston Tea Party in 1773, when colonists dumped tea off English ships to protest what they considered unfair taxation by the British crown.

"Some of you are registered Republicans. Some of you are ... what we used to call Reagan Democrats," Palin said. "And some of you are like so many of my friends and my family, including my own husband, just independent, not registered in any party.

The rally was a festival of all things conservative, as well as a political call-to-arms. Protesters dressed as Colonial soldiers with three-corner hats and marched through the crowd beating drums. There were Ronald Reagan masks, plenty of camouflage, and American flags fashioned into every manner of dress. Placards danced in the wind: "Stop the Obama Nation"; "Change It Back"; "No Taxation Without Representation."

'Silent majority'
Donna and Jim McGeachy, both 63 and Republicans, held a "Don't Tread on Me Flag," and said the government has stopped listening.

"We are talking to you, but you turned a deaf ear," Donna McGeachy said.

"We're kind of what you call the silent majority," her husband said. "I think it's about time to change."

Organizers had said up to 10,000 people might come; around 1 p.m., police estimated the crowd was about 7,000.

Leonard Grimes, a 70-year-old retired logger, said the nation is drifting toward socialism, and he's not convinced Obama is eligible to be president.

Video: Jobs, spending bring many to tea party rally "I'd like him to prove he's an American citizen," said Grimes, a registered independent who is originally from Michigan but now lives in Golden Valley, Ariz.

He called the health care bill "a joke, just another way to enslave the American public."

Reid supporters set up a hospitality tent Saturday in the parking lot of a Searchlight casino, about a mile from the tea party rally. The Senate leader planned to spend part of the day at a new shooting range in Las Vegas with National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.

Luis Salvador, 55, an unemployed fire sprinkler fitter, drove down from Las Vegas to support Reid, who he said has done a lot for the state and doesn't deserve the protest brought to his hometown.

"You don't come to a man's house and start creating a ruckus," said Salvador, a registered independent. He and several others taped signs saying "Nevada Needs Harry Reid" to the side of a truck near the highway that runs through town.

Another Reid supporter, Judy Hill, 62, said she doesn't understand the hatred of Reid. The longtime Democrat from Searchlight said she thinks people just don't know the man she calls a friend.

"They listen to the rhetoric. I think he's very misunderstood and under-appreciated," she said. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Palin, tea partiers hit Reid on home turf

  1. Closed captioning of: Palin, tea partiers hit Reid on home turf

    >>> good evening. in this season of political upheaval and confrontation, sarah palin , the icon of the tea party movement, took the conservative battle against the left straight to the doorstep of one of this country's most powerful democrats . palin fired up thousands of tea party activists in the home town of senate majority leader harry reid . the rally in the town of searchlight, nevada was the start of a 44-city tour aimed at unseating democrats in congress. nbc's george lewis is there tonight. jornlgs good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, lester. the tea party folks billed this as the woodstock for conservatives. and they called on the biggest rock star of the right to rev up the thousands who gathered here in the dusty nevada desert .

    >> thank you, tea party america . do you love your freedom?

    >> reporter: there's something about sarah . conservative tea party activists who think the country is headed in the wrong direction say she has the right stuff.

    >> we're not going to sit down and shut up. and thank you for standing up.

    >> reporter: as they try oust democrats in the november election, they came to searchlight, nevada , the home town of senate majority leader harry reid , who was instrumental in passing health care reform .

    >> we're saying that the big government , big debt, obama -pelosi-reid spending spree is over. you're fired.

    >> harry! harry!

    >> reporter: while a few dozen reid supporters held a counterrally in the center of searchlight, he stayed away from home today, visiting las vegas .

    >> i hope they have a good occasion. that's what america 's all about. it's a democracy, and people have a voice, and they should use it.

    >> reporter: earlier palin was in arizona , trying to use her tea party credentials to help a former running mate. nbc's norah o'donnell was there.

    >> palin started her day at a rally to help re-elect john mccain here in mesa, arizona .

    >> when we add up all the votes, arizona , this guy's going to win this time. going to send him back to the united states senate .

    >> reporter: but it's not clear whether palin can convince tea partiers that john mccain is one of them.

    >> it's a beautiful grassroots movement that's putting government back on the side of the people. back on the side of the people!

    >> reporter: she was twice interrupted by protesters who were forcibly removed.

    >> young man, stick around and listen to what we're going to say. sir, maybe you'll learn something.

    >> reporter: back here in searchlight, nevada there was none of that. the crowd was enthralled by palin, although a puny public address system made it hard to hear her at times.

    >> let's get it together, tea party america , and let's take back our country!

    >> reporter: the tea party express rolls eastward now. 44 cities and 23 states in 15 days. winding up in washington , d.c. on april 15th , tax day . lester?

    >> george lewis in searchlight, nevada for us tonight. thank you. the tea party is of


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