Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will spend much of the next few weeks campaigning with Sen. John McCain, a move that not only capitalizes on the Republican enthusiasm for the vice presidential nominee but also limits her exposure to the news media.
Palin, the little-known, first-term governor thrust into the national spotlight, arrived back in Alaska on Wednesday evening, her first trip home since being named to the ticket. She and her husband, Todd, boarded the plane after McCain and his wife, Cindy, escorted them to the aircraft.
Palin arrived in Fairbanks to find supporters jammed in an aircraft hangar, there to see Palin's first appearance in Alaska since McCain named her to the national ticket Aug. 29.
A crowd, estimated by the organizers, the Alaska Republican Party, at 3,000 went wild when Palin entered, shouting: "Sarah! Palin!"
Palin told the crowd: "John McCain and I are ready, and with your help, we are going to win."
The two are expected to begin appearing together again as early as next week, said a McCain adviser aboard Palin's flight.
McCain and Palin traveling together limits her exposure to reporters and gives McCain's top aides more control of her. Palin has not done interviews since the first and only one she gave to People magazine on the day McCain introduced her as his vice presidential choice.
Palin's plane made a brief refueling stop in Montana to finish the trip to Fairbanks. She is scheduled to make at least two public appearances in Alaska, including a homecoming rally set for Wednesday evening in Fairbanks.
She also is scheduled for an interview with ABC News on Thursday, but no other media interviews are scheduled, campaign officials said. The campaign repeatedly has denied other interview requests.
Reporters flock to first solo effort
This is Palin's first venture away from McCain and his advisers, although several of the campaign's staff accompanied her to Alaska. She did not interact with reporters during the flight.
Palin's first solo campaign trip drew a crowd of reporters so large that campaign officials had to force them to sacrifice 400 pounds of equipment and luggage before the plane could leave Dulles International Airport outside Washington.
Meanwhile, in Palin's hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, a small group of supporters of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama marched up and down a highway, chanting slogans and holding signs that said "8 years is Enough" and "Obama! Believe." Palin was mayor of the town of about 7,000 residents from 1996-2002. Some drivers honked and waved in support of Obama; others stopped and yelled "Sarah!"
Earlier Wednesday, the Republican nominees equated lawmakers' requests for funding for special projects with corruption on Wednesday even though Palin herself has requested nearly $200 million in so-called "earmarks" this year.
Campaigning in Virginia, McCain suggested earmarks are particularly shameful at a time when families are struggling with rising food, gas and home mortgage costs. He vowed again to veto any bill that contains such funding.
"I got an old ink pen, my friends, and the first pork barrel-laden earmark, big-spending bill that comes across my desk, I will veto it. You will know their names. I will make them famous and we'll stop this corruption," McCain said during a rally at a park in suburban Washington, D.C.
Seeking $197 million in earmarks
Palin has sought $197 million worth of earmarks for 2009, down about 25 percent from the $256 million she sought in the 2008 budget year. As mayor of tiny Wasilla, Alaska, she hired a lobbyist to seek federal money for special projects. Wasilla obtained 14 earmarks, totaling $27 million, between 2000-2003, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama hasn't asked for any earmarks this year. The Illinois senator sought $311 million in such funding last year. McCain, an Arizona senator, doesn't seek earmarks for his state.
Undaunted by his running mate's ties to earmarks, McCain said: "I've fought corruption, and it didn't matter if it was Democrats or Republican, and so has Sarah Palin."
Palin said she has "championed earmark reform" as governor and "reformed the abuses of earmarks in our state." Now, she said, she is ready to join McCain in Washington "so we can end the corrupt practice of abusive earmarks after all."
They're tough to resist
The practice of earmarking — lawmakers inserting special requests for money for home-state projects in spending bills — is a longtime anti-Washington bugaboo for politicians running for office. Many find that, once in office, requests from constituents for help on a particular project is too tough to resist and support bringing that kind of money home to their states and districts.
"John McCain's idea of changing Washington is a vice-presidential candidate who, as governor, requested more pork per person than any other state in the country," said Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor.
Still, McCain and Palin's attack on earmarks in the face of those she has requested joins other statements by the vice presidential nominee that have been widely debunked:
- Palin routinely claims to have put an end to Alaska's infamous "bridge to nowhere," even though she supported the project during her gubernatorial campaign and turned against it only when it became a national embarrassment and Congress threatened to cut its funding.
- Palin has claimed that she put the governor's jet on the Internet auction site eBay, and McCain has said it was sold at a profit. However, the jet was never sold via eBay.
- Palin says she eliminated the governor's chef from the state budget, yet she gave the person another job in state government.
Biggest campaign crowd
McCain aides said Wednesday's event attracted the biggest non-convention crowd of his campaign, with local officials reporting an estimated 23,000 at the event. People filled the grass and hillsides to make a sea of red, as the state GOP exhorted everyone coming to wear the hue in a sign of support for the party, and they often drowned out the candidates' words with chanting.
Judging by shouts from the crowd, the enthusiasm seemed driven primarily by the presence of Palin. She has electrified both McCain's campaign and the party since he announced her as his running mate almost two weeks ago.
The reaction was significantly different in Philadelphia.
McCain made a solo trip for a round-table discussion with half a dozen female business leaders at the Down Home Diner. The appearance, inside a bustling indoor downtown marketplace, formed a sharp contrast with the earlier joint show, as the arrival of both McCain's bus outside and him inside was greeted by loud Obama crowds.
The Republican could barely be heard over the Obama cheers by the women he met, or by reporters when McCain made a statement after.
"Pennsylvania is a battleground state, as we can tell," he said with a small smile.