LANCASTER, Pa. — For the women attending a campaign event in Lancaster County, Pa., Sarah Palin might as well be at the top of the Republican ticket.
"I like the way she's going to bring Washington down to earth," said Erin Gilsbach, 30, who drove from Allentown with her sister, husband and two daughters to hear the Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential nominee speak here Tuesday. "Everyone talks about it, but I get the feeling she's going to do it."
That's exactly what worries Democrats, who see women in Pennsylvania and other states who might have voted for New York Sen. Hillary Clinton turning to Palin — No. 2 on the Republican ticket led by Arizona Sen. John McCain.
"We haven't closed the deal in America, and we certainly haven't closed the deal in Pennsylvania," said Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat who stopped into Lancaster to campaign for Sen. Barack Obama Monday. "We have a lot of work to do."
For most women attending the event — many waited two hours in line to get into a field house at Franklin & Marshall College — Palin was a bigger draw than McCain. An estimated 10,000 people found parking wherever they could near the school, hoofing it with umbrellas in muggy weather to the rally.
The pre-rally chants for "Sarah, Sarah" were louder than "we want McCain." Palin was even introduced first. Women wore pink "Hot Chicks Vote Republican" buttons; one hoisted a McCain placard bearing a hand-scrawled message: "Guns, God, Lipstick."
"She's kind of overshadowing McCain at the moment," said Leah Herrold, 35, a registered Republican and a nurse. "But she's overshadowing Obama, too. She's overshadowing everyone at the moment."
Palin's remarks were freshened up some from the convention speech that introduced her to the nation last week, but she recycled a favorite line, tailored specifically to Pennsylvanians. They booed as she reminded them that they were the same people that Obama spoke of last spring when he told donors at a San Francisco fundraiser that some white working-class voters may "cling to guns or religion" out of bitterness at their economic plight.
McCain doesn't talk about us one way in Lancaster and another way in San Francisco, Palin said. "Wherever he goes, John McCain is the same man," Palin said to cheers.
"I was really undecided, but I think she (Palin) has swayed me," said Susan Engle, a 42-year-old registered Democrat from Lancaster. "I look at her and I see a normal, everyday woman. Her problems are the problems of a lot of families."
It's not so much her politics as it is her personality, said Engle, a lab technician. "I'm not up on her politics, honestly, it was more the fact she has a family and a career."
When asked about Palin's level of experience, with less than two years as governor of Alaska, men and women both shrug and point to Obama. The Democratic presidential candidate has no executive experience and is a first-term U.S. senator, countered Mary Louise Boszkowski of Valley Forge.
"She's a leader," Boszkowski said of Palin. "When you have that ability, you can motivate people, get things done."
Monica Forte, 38, of nearby Manheim Township, was already committed to McCain. What Palin said during her convention speech about being a fighter for special-needs children — Palin's infant son, Trig, has Down syndrome — made Forte, a mother of a child with a chronic illness, ready to show her support for the Alaska governor.
"Her shoe is our shoe," Forte said.
McCain and Palin will stage a rally in northern Virginia on Wednesday, and then Palin will head back to Alaska for a few days. She'll fly to Fairbanks to see her son deploy with his unit to Iraq and will sit down for her first post-nomination TV interview with Charles Gibson of ABC News, to be broadcast beginning Thursday night.
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