STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. Republican presidential nominee John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin filled the outdoor Freedom Hill Amphitheatre last night, bringing a message focused largely on reform and Mr. McCain s championing of the successful troop surge in Iraq, not the ailing auto industry around them.
The duo, coming off this week s Republican nominating convention in St. Paul, drew about 7,000 people. Cars waiting to get into the parking lot jammed roads outside the arena for two hours. Mr. McCain and Mrs. Palin had drawn a large crowd in Cedarburg, Wis., earlier in the day.
Honing his populist theme of reformer and referring to Mrs. Palin, Mr. McCain told the Michigan crowd, I m so happy to be here. I can t wait, I can t wait, to introduce her to Washington, D.C.
Let me offer a little advance warning to the old big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second, Washington crowd: Change is coming, change is coming, Mr. McCain said.
Mr. McCain s previous half-dozen or so appearances this year in Michigan have been town-hall meetings measuring in hundreds of spectators rather than thousands, and usually featuring a question-and-answer period.
There was no Q-and-A yesterday, which approached in size the crowds that Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has been drawing all over the country.
The roar that greeted Mrs. Palin, the governor of Alaska who was picked out of relative obscurity just one week ago to be Mr. McCain s running mate, suggested that she was the star of the show.
The county-owned amphitheater is located in what is considered Reagan Democrat country filled with blue-collar workers who have voted conservative in presidential elections for the last couple of decades.
Polls taken in Michigan in August showed Mr. Obama leading Mr. McCain by several points. Democrat John Kerry defeated George W. Bush in Michigan in 2004.
Mrs. Palin attacked Mr. Obama s opposition to the U.S. troop surge in Iraq, of which she said Mr. McCain was a lonely advocate, risking his political career.
Noting that Mr. Obama said in a television interview Thursday that the surge in Iraq was succeeding in ways nobody could have foreseen, Mrs. Palin said Mr. Obama was forgetting about Mr. McCain.
Mr. Obama, who is staking much of his campaign on his judgment in opposing the war in 2002, also said in the interview on the Fox network s O Reilly Factor that the surge has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.
Mrs. Palin said America would have been less safe and millions in Iraq would have faced a violent fate if Congress had cut off funds for the war as she said Mr. Obama wanted to do.
She said her oldest son lived in the Kalamazoo area most of his senior year of high school to play hockey and that he is now in the Army on his way to Iraq.
Mr. McCain touched generally on the economy, which has hit Michigan s auto manufacturing economy hard.
I like to give you some straight talk, as you know. These are tough times for many. Times are tough. You re worried about decent jobs. Many are struggling to put food on the table, he said, before turning his speech to a promise to stand by you, not in your way.
He promised an energy policy that he said would produce millions of jobs, tax cuts, and a health-care plan that would make it easier for more Americans to find and keep good health insurance.
He claimed Mr. Obama s plan would be a government-run health-care system where a bureaucrat stands between you and your doctor.
The Obama campaign has been attacking Mr. McCain on health care, saying Mr. McCain s plan would separate workers from their employers health coverage and offer them a $5,000 tax credit to pay for health insurance, but that the average price of family health care is $12,000.
Offering some more of what he called straight talk, Mr. McCain said, I need to win the state of Michigan. He urged his listeners to vote and to encourage their friends to do the same.
Several spectators said they were delighted with Mr. McCain s choice of a running mate.
I think she s awesome, said Jeff Whitson, 55, of Olivet, Mich., a retired auto worker who now sells herbal supplements. He said he questioned whether Mr. McCain can win Michigan, but believes with Mrs. Palin s participation he can.
She s going to bring a lot of Democrats, a lot of women, too, said Mr. Whitson, who was with his wife, daughter, and grandson.
Mary Grant, 57, of Troy, Mich., said the Republican ticket represents all my values, including opposition to abortion.
I think his campaign s very energized by the message that s finally coming out and by the addition of Sarah Palin, Ms. Grant said.
Contact Tom Troy at email@example.com 419-724-6058.