Thousands turn out to see Palin at Jeffco Fairgrounds

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By AJ Vicens

Doors opened at 7 a.m. Sept. 15 for Sarah Palin’s appearance at the Westernaires Equestrian Center at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, but that wasn't early enough for some.

Thousands turned out to see the Alaska governor, who has electrified the campaign of Sen. John McCain since he named her as his running mate.

"It's a great opportunity for the people of Colorado to get to know Sarah Palin a little better," said Jim Everson, Jefferson County's assessor. Everson was among the first to enter the arena just before 7 a.m., eager to see Palin in person. He said he was glad McCain selected the little-known governor.

"I'm very excited about (the pick)," Everson said. "It demonstrates that John McCain has the guts to pick somebody that's not part of the Washington, D.C., beltway mainstream, and go for somebody who offers real change."

Matt Finley of Golden also arrived early.

"Just hearing some straight talk," Finley said, when asked what he looked forward to most. "It's exciting. She appears to be a powerful, self-confident lady, and it will be neat to see her. Plus, it's right in my backyard."

Finley said it's interesting that Jefferson County and Colorado loom so large in this presidential election. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, was slated to visit the Colorado School of Mines in Golden on Sept. 16. Jefferson County has more than 350,000 registered voters, with registrations split in thirds between Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

Palin's visit could be viewed as an attempt to attract independents, but the crowd at the fairgrounds Sept. 15 was primarily partisan.

"The ones I know here are mostly workers in the party," said Joan Sovisek of Lakewood. "But I think she's going to be able to pull women."

State Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, said Palin's appeal is hard to resist for the average voter.

"She's an everyday mom and an accomplished reformer," Kopp said. "Today is the day we begin to lock down Jefferson County for McCain."

Palin took the stage just after 9:15 a.m., and the crowd of several thousand went wild.

Palin's speech offered some new ideas to go with the highlights of her convention acceptance speech she's been giving around the country.

She said she was proud of the treasury and the federal government for not bailing out Lehman Brothers, the latest Wall Street goliath to crumble under the weight of its own bad investments and practices.

"John McCain and I are going to put an end to the mismanagement and abuses on Wall Street," Palin said.

Palin pledged that, as vice president, she would work to expand services for special-needs families and promote all energy sources, including renewables and increased oil production. She praised the work of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, visible to the north of the fairgrounds across West Sixth Avenue.

Palin discussed the "bridge to nowhere" controversy.

"And that infamous bridge to nowhere, I did tell Congress, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ " Palin said.

Palin had supported the bridge project and widely praised the earmark that became known during her 2006 gubernatorial campaign. After the project was decried at the national level, including by McCain himself, she stopped supporting it.

A lone Obama supporter, Diana Caile, stood in the back of the crowd, heckling Palin at times. Caile, of Boulder, shouted variously "Unqualified!" and "Liar!", only to be shouted down by those around her. She held a ripped Obama campaign sign in the air. She said a man with a child had grabbed it from her and ripped it in half.

"I feel like if there is one thing I had to say, I said it," Caile said after the speech. "And that is that she is unqualified to hold my children's life in the balance."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com.