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O'FALLON, Mo. -- John McCain showcased his new running mate Sarah Palin to thousands of supporters in Missouri Sunday, while signaling that the newly minted G.O.P. presidential ticket would be focused on the pending hurricane in the Gulf Coast in the days to come.
McCain told the crowd at the T.R. Hughes Minor League baseball stadium that he's directed party officials to change this week's Republican National Convention in Minnesota "from a celebration to a call to action to help with relief efforts." "Not as Republicans," McCain said, "but as fellow Americans." McCain said his party would "put aside our political hats" to aid any victims of Hurricane Gustav.
Palin, an unknown quantity to most Missourians, also spoke about the importance of the federal government's preparation and response to Gustav's wrath. She paired that message of competence with reform. "We don't want bigger government, we want a government that does a few big things, and does it right," Palin said, to cheers of "Sarah, Sarah, Sarah." Palin also promised to bring her message of reform to all parts of the country, "to every party or no party at all." McCain ended his comments promising "change is coming," repeating that phrase several times, with vigor. Governors Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee also spoke briefly.
McCain appeared with Palin on a stage around home-plate in the stadium in O'Fallon, a St. Louis suburb. O'Fallon is located in St. Charles County, a key area for Republicans in statewide elections. In 2004, President Bush defeated John Kerry 59% to 41% in St. Charles County. In 2006, Senator Jim Talent beat Claire McCaskill by 10 points here, but lost the state.
Nixa's Lisa Reynolds traveled three and a half hours to O'Fallon to get a glimpse of the new ticket. "At first I was a little upset Friday morning," Reynolds said, in response to hearing about McCain's selection of Palin. "We really wanted Mitt Romney, but then after we read about her, we said, great choice," Reynolds said.
Reynolds said the tone of McCain's message Sunday fit the developing situation. "I think if we have a hurricane in New Orleans, I doubt there will be much of a convention," she said.
While McCain and Palin mostly avoided partisan political shots Sunday, other Missouri Republicans who warmed the crowd up leveled their fair share of attacks. Brenda Talent, wife of former Senator Talent, said McCain had the maturity to pick a woman for his running mate, "unlike his opponent." She also said that Palin has more experience in actual jobs than both Sen. Joe Biden and Barack Obama combined. Kenny Hulshof's campaign manager, John Hancock kept the crowd energized with bombastic lines like, "Are we going to turn this country over to those who are going to destroy our military?" Gov. Matt Blunt blasted Obama for being "the most liberal member of the United States Senate." Republican nominee for Governor Kenny Hulshof mocked Obama's call for change on energy, saying "it's not enough to inflate your tires." Hulshof also reserved some fire for his opponent, Democrat Jay Nixon. Hulshof said the Democratic nominee for Governor "has arrogantly proclaimed himself an agent of change." The Columbia Congressman said Nixon's call for change can't be believed because the Attorney General is the longest serving official in state government.