TUCSON, Ariz. – John McCain sought to nullify the energy his primary challenger was getting from the Tea Party movement by bringing in its biggest star for a major endorsement rally in Tucson Friday.
J.D. Hayworth, the former congressman challenging McCain from the right, has tried to harness the energy of those affiliated with the anti-tax, anti-government Tea Party groups. But Sarah Palin rode to her former running mate’s aid.
In a speech to a boisterous crowd of some 4,000, Palin portrayed McCain as a champion of the movement's views.
“It’s a beautiful, grassroots movement. It’s putting government back on the side of people,” she said. “Everybody here today who supports John McCain, we are all part of that Tea Party movement.”
Palin said tea-party members have questioned her support of McCain but she used a joke to brush aside the suggestion that he wasn’t in line with the group’s views. “When you think about that first tea party, shoot, some may claim that John was there,” she said. The crowd chuckled.
Turning to healthcare reform, Palin employed the kind of rhetoric that irritates her liberal critics. “I see today that Fidel Castro likes Obamacare but we don’t like Obamacare, doesn’t that kind of tell you something?”
Palin also cautioned supporters about the recent reports of political violence stemming from the healthcare vote.
"We know violence isn’t the answer," she said, but added: "Don't let the conversation be diverted. Keep fighting hard for these candidates who are all about the common sense conservative solutions that we need."
She closed by asking, “Arizona, would you send the maverick back to the United States Senate."
McCain stood beaming behind the former Alaska governor while she warmed up the crowd for him. “Let’s get right to it,” he said, taking the podium.
The Arizona senator answered President Barack Obama’s call for Republicans to “go for it” on repealing healthcare reform with some tough rhetoric of his own. “Right Mr. President, we’re going to go for it. We’re going to repeal this bill,” McCain said. “This is a fight worth having.”
McCain used what will undoubtedly become a popular GOP talking point – that the bill allows for the hiring of thousands of new Internal Revenue Service agents. “They’re not telling you the truth,” he said.
McCain noted there was a “peaceful” revolution underway in America today.
“We’re going to take on this Obamacare,” he said. “We’re going to take it on in the courts, because it’s unconstitutional. … My friends, we’re going to take it on on [Election Day] when we take control of the House and the Senate.”
McCain also denounced the recent threats made to lawmakers regarding their vote on the healthcare legislation. “We all condemn violence, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to give up this fight my friends.”
He also admitted that the GOP was in a situation of its own devising. “We Republicans blew it. We blew it when we let the Abramoff corruption come in. And we blew when the out-of-control spending took place. And we blew it when we didn’t pay for the programs that we sponsored. We’ve learned our lesson, my friends.”
The crowd was made up of many long-time McCain supporters who were excited to see the two running mates together again. “I’m here for both,” said Carroll Evans, an electrician from Tucson. “I’ve always liked John.”
But some other long-time supporters were wavering somewhat in their support for McCain.
“I’ve always voted for John McCain but I’m really listening to what he’s saying [this time],” said Micki Callahan, an office manager. She was concerned that illegal immigration was hurting the economy and wanted to hear McCain take a harder line. “I hope McCain will address the issue of amnesty," she said.
Callahan admitted it was the prospect of seeing Palin that excited her more than McCain. “I think she’s really coming up – we need some young blood in there."