LANCASTER -- Sen. John McCain is at the top of the Republican ticket, but it's Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin who got the loudest and longest applause at a rally at Franklin & Marshall College yesterday.
"Sarah! Sarah! Sarah!" the crowd of at least 5,000 began cheering long before Ms. Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, took the stage with Mr. McCain.
"This is overwhelming" she said before turning to her standard stump speech, that speaks to her efforts as a small-town mayor and as governor to eliminate property taxes, to reduce the influence of oil-company lobbyists and to make government more accountable.
"Sen. McCain has called the two of us a team of mavericks," she said from the podium in the college's Alumni Sports and Fitness Center. "Government isn't always the answer. In fact, too often, government is the problem. ... We want to put government back on the side of the people."
Mr. McCain, meanwhile, accused Mr. Obama of too often toeing the party line at the expense of the people.
"What this team of mavericks really means is we understand who we really work for. We don't work for a party, we don't work for a special interest, we don't work for ourselves," he said. "We'll work for you."
Mr. McCain also promised to work toward an energy-independence plan that includes off-shore drilling, solar energy and nuclear power.
It was the pair's first joint appearance in Pennsylvania since accepting the nomination at the Republican National Convention last week.
The stop was originally expected to be a town-hall style meeting with questions from the audience, but after Ms. Palin was added to the ticket, the format was changed to a rally. Ms. Palin has yet to answer questions from reporters or voters in a public forum, but has been received as if she were a rock star by boisterous Republican crowds from Colorado to Pennsylvania.
"McCain can't win the state without a substantial turnout of his base, and south-central Pennsylvania is about as Republican as you can get," said G. Terry Madonna, a pollster and political science professor at the college.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama appears aware of that. He has stumped in this region numerous times this year, most recently Thursday at Buchanan Park, just two blocks away from the site of yesterday's McCain rally.
Pennsylvania is emerging as battleground central. In 2004, it was the most visited state in the union, with 24 visits by Sen. John Kerry and 44 by President Bush.
Just being here isn't enough, Mr. Madonna said.
Mr. McCain "needs to get these base voters excited, and Sarah Palin has done a remarkable job of getting to voters here who were not excited before," he said. "Social conservatives who have a reason to want to vote for a conservative ticket weren't particularly excited about McCain, but Sarah Palin is pro-life, pro-gun and has a compelling personal story to tell. ... There's no case in American history where a vice-presidential candidate has energized the national ticket as she has."
Tracie Mauriello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-787-2141.