STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. — John McCain and Sarah Palin tried Friday to ride whatever momentum they generated from this week's Republican convention, beginning their sprint to Election Day by campaigning together in the battleground states of Wisconsin and Michigan.
Late in the day after the balloons and fanfare of the St. Paul convention, the Republican presidential ticket stood before a packed amphitheater in this suburban Detroit swing county of Macomb, known for its blue-collar "Reagan Democrats."
"These are tough times for many of you," McCain said. "In the state of Michigan, times are tough. You're worried about keeping your job or finding a new one. Many are struggling to put food on the table. . . . All you've ever asked of government is for it to stand on your side, not in your way, and that's what I intend to do, stand on your side and fight for you."
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, meanwhile, campaigned in the swing state of Pennsylvania, emphasizing economic issues amid Friday's news that the U.S. unemployment rate reached a five-year high of 6.1 percent in August as employers cut 84,000 jobs.
Earlier in the day, the Republican presidential ticket stood before a crowd of thousands assembled along the main street of downtown Cedarburg, a suburb of Milwaukee. McCain said that it's places like this staunchly Republican enclave of 11,000 that will propel him and Palin into the White House.
"This turnout in Cedarburg is what this campaign is all about," he told the enthusiastic crowd. "We're going to go across the small towns of America, and we're going to give them hope, and we're going to give them confidence, and we will bring about change in Washington, D.C. We won't (just) talk about issues, but we will do something about them."
Palin recited her biography and many of the lines she gave in her convention speech. She also continued to throw sharp rhetorical punches, with pointed digs at the Obama-Biden ticket.
She again mocked Obama's time working as a community organizer. And, noting Obama's appearance Thursday on the Fox News TV show hosted by Bill O'Reilly, Palin told the crowd that Obama finally admitted that the troop "surge" in Iraq is a success.
Obama did acknowledge for the first time publicly that the surge worked, but he also took care to note that the Iraqi government hasn't achieved the political reconciliation that was the ultimate goal of the surge. Obama also maintained his position that he will withdraw U.S. combat troops on an orderly timetable and end the war.
Palin said: "Just last night, Senator Obama finally broke and brought himself to admit what all the rest of us have known for some time, and that's thanks to the skill and valor of our troops, the surge in Iraq has succeeded," she said. "Senator Obama said, and I quote, 'it succeed beyond our wildest dreams.'
"'I think,' Senator Obama said, 'that the surge succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated.' I guess when you turn out profoundly wrong on a vital national security issue, maybe it's time to pretend that everyone else is wrong, too," Palin said.
Obama focused on the economy Friday, visiting a specialty glass factory in Duryea, Pa., and issuing a statement tying McCain to the latest unemployment news.
"Today's jobs report is a reminder of what's at stake in this election," Obama said. "John McCain showed last night he is intent on continuing the economic policies that just this year have caused the American economy to lose 605,000 jobs."
Obama criticized McCain's tax cut plan — the Republican would make most of President Bush's 2001 and 2003 cuts, which expire Jan. 1, 2011, permanent. Obama said that, "John McCain's answer is more of the same, $200 billion in tax cuts to big corporations and oil companies, and not one dime of tax relief to more than 100 million middle class families."
Obama would end the tax cuts for most individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples more than $250,000, while cutting taxes for others.
In Pennsylvania, where Obama and McCain are fighting for swing voters in the northeastern part of the state, Obama told workers that Republicans had little to offer them.
"If you watched the Republican National Convention over the last three days, you wouldn't know that we have the highest unemployment in five years because they didn't say a thing about what is going on with the middle class," he said.
"They spent a lot of time talking about John McCain's biography, which we all honor," he said. "They talked about me a lot, in less than respectful terms. What they didn't talk about is you and what you're seeing in your lives and what you're going through, or what your friends or your neighbors are going through."
Obama also unveiled a plan to help fight cancer, pledging to double federal research funding and promote preventive health care.
"This is a plan that will help save lives," said Jill Biden, wife of the Democratic vice presidential nominee, who helped explain it to reporters.
Meanwhile, Palin was hailed as a new political superstar by several people in the Wisconsin crowd, estimated at 12,000. Hand-painted "We Love You, Sarah!" and "Sarah Barracuda" signs sprinkled the crowd.
"I think she's a go-getter," said Jan. Upluebke of Mayville, Wis. "She'll make people at least pay attention. She doesn't back off."
Kathi Czarnecki of Cedarburg agreed.
"I think the campaign was energized when Senator McCain picked Sarah," she said. "The combination of his experience on international affairs and her experience as a governor will be huge. I think Senator McCain, if there is another terrorist attack, is the man I want in office."
(David Lightman contributed to this article from Bloomington, Minn.)
More from McClatchy:
McClatchy Newspapers 2008