Palin defends use of gun imagery while campaigning against Reid's reelection

Sarah Palin urged a rally of 10,000 conservatives in Searchlight, Nev., to defeat Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidFeinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Whitehouse says Democratic caucus will decide future of Judiciary Committee Bottom line MORE and defended her use of gun imagery in the campaign.

Palin was star speaker of a rally organized by the Tea Party Express, a national bus tour that will hold rallies across the country, beginning in Searchlight on Saturday and ending in Washington on April 15, when federal taxes are due.

Reid (D-Nev.) grew up in tiny town of Searchlight, population under 800, and still lives there when not in Washington. Crowds choked the streets and clogged the interstate highway into town with a mile-long traffic jam.

Reid was out of town attending a ceremony in nearby Clark County to mark the opening of a 2,900-acre shooting park he helped establish.

“It is so good to be here for the 'Showdown in Searchlight,'” Palin told the boisterous crowd.

“In the coming days and months Harry is going to come home and he’s going to explain what he’s been up to in Washington, and Harry’s going to hold campaign rallies and town halls and try to explain the big government takeover of healthcare and student loans,” Palin said.

“Ask him a thing or two about like when early voting begins and who else is running for his seat,” Palin exhorted the dusty, windblown crowd, which held aloft American flags and anti-Reid signs.

“Freedom is a God-given right and freedom is worth fighting for,” said Palin, who then invoked the gun imagery that has drawn criticism in recent days.

“If we stick to our principles, we’re going to be just find,” she said. “Now when I talk about it’s not a time to retreat but a time to reload, what I’m talking about — now media, try to get this right — that’s not inciting violence. That’s trying to inspire people to get involved in their local elections and these upcoming federal elections.

“It’s telling people, ‘Don’t let anybody tell you to sit and shut up, Americans,’” Palin told the cheering crowd.

Palin made clear to the crowd at the start of her speech that violence is not an acceptable form of political expression.

“When we talk about fighting for our country, let’s clear the air right now about what we’re talking about,” Palin said. “We’re not inciting violence; don’t get sucked into the lame-stream media’s lies about conservative Americans standing up for freedom as inciting violence.

“Violence is not the answer,” she added.

Palin came under criticism last week for posting an image on her Facebook page depicting a map with crosshairs aimed at the districts of Democratic lawmakers.

Violence has become an issue since House passage of healthcare reform as several lawmakers have reported receiving threats.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Rules Committee, reported that an anonymous message was left on her answering machine making reference to “snipers.”

Palin accused the media of exaggerating the threats and diverting public attention from healthcare and student lending reform, which passed Congress this week.

“It’s a bunch of bunk what the media is trying to feed you, don’t let them divert attention from the debate,” Palin said. “Media, you guys ginning up an issue like that, making you sound like it’s a crowd like this of patriotic Americans who are inciting violence. It’s not true.”

Palin also took a swipe at President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaFive things to know about Antony Blinken, Biden's pick for State Obama: Republican Party members believe 'white males are victims' Texas warehouse where migrants housed in 'cages' closed for humane renovation MORE’s handling of national security.

“In these volatile times when we are a nation at war, now more than ever is when we need a commander-in-chief, not a constitutional law professor lecturing us from a lectern,” she said.

Palin accused Obama, Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of trying to “tax and borrow our way and spend our way” out of the nation’s problems.

She also derided healthcare reform by noting that Cuban leader Fidel Castro praised the enactment of the law.

Palin said that Reid is “gambling our future and somebody needs to tell him that this is not a crapshoot, just a lot of this is being crap, though.”

Palin said Democratic policies “tick [her] off because I care about our children and our children’s future,” using a rhetorical tactic that Republican lawmakers began to push in concerted fashion on the Senate floor Friday.

“We don’t need a bunch of elites in Washington making decisions for us; we’re smart enough to make decisions for ourselves,” she said.

Palin blasted Obama’s proposal to freeze spending on some domestic discretionary programs, calling on Congress to cut spending as well as taxes.

She also called on the nation to end its reliance on foreign oil imports by developing domestic energy production through offshore drilling, nuclear and clean-coal technology.

“We do need to drill here and drill now,” Palin said, echoing the “drill, baby, drill,” mantra she helped make famous as Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Memo: GOP mulls its future after Trump Juan Williams: Obama's dire warnings about right-wing media Democrats' squabbling vindicates Biden non-campaign MORE’s (R-Ariz.) presidential running mate in 2008.

The rally in Searchlight was Palin’s second high-profile rally of the day. She joined McCain, who is facing a difficult primary election, for a rally in Mesa, Ariz., on Saturday.