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McCain, Palin visit St. Louis area en route to pared down convention

>This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 2, 2008 -  A crowd estimated at 22,000 gathered at T.R. Hughes Stadium in O'Fallon, Mo., to hear presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain speak alongside his pick for vice president, Sarah Palin.

At a Sunday afternoon rally in O'Fallon, Mo., that felt at times like a baseball game, Republican presidential candidate John McCain and his newly chosen running mate Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, pleased a crowd estimated at about 22,000 with their calls for political reform and change in Washington.

Later, McCain announced that activities scheduled for the opening day of the Republican National Convention would be sharply curtailed.

"This is a time when we have to do away with our party politics and we have to act as Americans. We have to join the 300 million other Americans on behalf of our fellow citizens. It's a time for action. So, we're going to suspend most of our activities tomorrow except for those absolutely necessary," said McCain, according to CNN.

Sunday afternoon, at T.R. Hughes Stadium in O'Fallon, Mo., where the River City Rascals normally play minor league baseball, GOP supporters wore red "to demonstrate their commitment to ensuring that Missouri remains a red state for John McCain." There were plenty of red Cardinals hats, shirts and even a few cries of "Play ball,'' after the national anthem.

McCain introduced Palin as a woman willing to stand up to "the good old boys" in both Alaska and Washington. He said that while others talk about reform, she stands up for what is right and put a halt to pork barrel spending.

"I tried to stop the 'bridge to no where,' but she got it done,'' McCain said to cries of "Sarah, Sarah, Sarah."

With the Gulf Coast hunkering down for Hurricane Gustav, both McCain and Palin made pleas to residents of the region to evacuate. They made a quick trip Sunday morning to Jackson, Miss., to assess disaster preparedness, and they called on the crowd to be ready to offer help in the aftermath.

"A crisis of this scale can bring out the best in our country, '' Palin said.

Palin echoed McCain's calls for good government and cautioned against big spending.

"We don't want bigger government, we want government that does a few big things and does them right,'' she said.

"You go, girl,'' yelled a male supporter as the crowd cheered.

Equally enthusiastic applause followed Palin's statement that she isn't afraid to take political risks.

"I like to say that a ship in harbor is safe, but that's not why the ship is built,'' she said.

The stop in O'Fallon, was the last in a series of rallies billed as "The Road to the Convention." The GOP convention is set to begin Monday in St. Paul, Minn. but with an abbreviated schedule.

Traveling with McCain were Republican also-rans former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.

"Washington is broken, and these two are going to fix it,'' Romney said in introducing McCain and Palin to enthusiastic cheers.

McCain's wife Cindy, sporting a fluorescent pink cast, joined her husband on stage, and Palin's husband Todd gave his wife a big hug after the rally.

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Before the "Straight Talk Express'' bus pulled up to the stadium stands, John Rich of the country music act Big and Rich sang a rousing ditty he calls "Raising McCain." Rich chastised the news media for doubting that young people are excited about McCain, describing him as "one of the most bad-assed'' men who ever walked the Earth to laughter and cheers.

Sen. Kit Bond, Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt and gubernatorial candidate Kenny Hulshof each took a turn on stage to stress McCain's leadership abilities.

"Sarah Palin – is that a home run, or what?" asked Blunt.

Hulshoff commended McCain for his consistent voice on Iraq, particularly in support of the troop surge.

"That's a leader, when you take a stand and you know it's right – and our troops are getting the job done there,'' Hulshoff said.

The stadium's 3,491 permanent seats were filled, and thousands stood on the field before the stage set up at home plate. Tickets were free and available at GOP offices across the state.

"I want to thank you for being here in Missouri on this balmy Arizona day,'' McCain told the sea of red waving McCain-Palin signs.

McCain must not have gotten the message about the dress code from rally organizers: He wore a blue shirt and khakis.

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.

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