Campaign aides say about 6,000 gathered at an airplane hanger in Cedar Rapids this morning to see Republican presidential candidate John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, but many in the crowd were there to see the number two, not the number one.
Bill Hammel of Dubuque, a former city councilman, says Palin’s the reason he drove all that way. "There’s a certain excitement here. I think she’s revved up the Republicans and people are looking for change, but they want real change. She’s the only outsider running and I might be so bold to say, the most experienced. Most of our presidents were governors," Bill Hammel said.
His wife, Bonnie, wouldn’t have been as excited about voting for McCain if Palin hadn’t been on the ticket. "To me, she’s down home. I can related to her. I’ve got five kids. She has five kids," Bonnie Hammel says.
Bill Meek of Montezuma can believe many people in the crowd are more interested in seeing Palin than seeing McCain. "That’s probably true of a lot of folks," Meek said. "McCain made an excellent choice."
Palin was first to greet the crowd. "It’s great to be in Grand Rapids," Palin said to open the rally, misidentifying Cedar Rapids. Palin said she and McCain would be touring a flooded neighborhood in Cedar Rapids. "John and I have talked about the Great Flood of 2008 in these parts," Palin said. "We’re going over to look at, today, some of the damage there. It is a testament to the american people. The response from our government should be just as swift and complete."
Palin laid the blame at the feet of the Democratically-controlled House and Senate. "Congress has not done enough to help this region recover," Palin aid, to applause from the crowd. "So this is our pledge: in a McCain/Palin administration we will not forget the victims of this tragedy."
McCain did not mention the flooding during his brief remarks, which focused mainly on the country’s financial crisis. A steady stream of folks started leaving the rally when McCain started speaking, apparently they were there just to see Palin.
Donna Martinson, who works in a building in downtown Cedar Rapids, was at the rally to support McCain, who she voted for back in January in the Iowa Caucuses. "I think it’s his time and he’s earned it," she said.