Alaskans treated Sarah Palin like a movie star at an Anchorage rally Saturday, snapping cell phone pictures, taking video and pressing for autographs from Palin and her now-famous 7-year-old daughter Piper.
"Alaska, I'll be doing it for you," Palin told the roaring crowd at the new Dena'ina Convention Center in downtown Anchorage. "Going forth in these days ahead, Alaska, I pledge to do my level best and to be worthy of the confidence this beautiful state has put in me."
Palin left right after the rally in her vice-presidential campaign jet to resume campaigning in the Lower 48. She was headed to Nevada for another rally Saturday night, and then it was on to Colorado.
"We've got a little travel planned for the next 52 days. But I'll be home come November and I'd really like to bring along my friend, our friend, John McCain as the president-elect of the United States," Palin said. "Alaska, you are going to love him."
McCain finished last among the four presidential candidates in this spring's Alaska Republican primary, behind Ron Paul. But Palin said he's independent, will protect gun rights and press for "energy independence." Palin seemed to get a kick out of it when people in the audience started chanting "drill, baby drill.''
"That's been exciting, traveling across the country and hearing that chant," Palin said.
Convention hall managers figured the Palin rally drew about 1,500 people. There was a big anti-Palin protest in Midtown Anchorage later in the day, but only a few protestors showed up outside Palin's morning rally. Palin began speaking a little after 9:30 a.m. and people started lining up hours earlier.
"I'm all in for Sarah," said Tracy Jones, who said she was born in Anchorage in 1959, and sees Palin's rise as good for the state. "This is really exciting. I watched this town go from crayons to perfume. I think it's fresh, exciting, and I'm really proud of her."
Pauline Kee, 84, also waited in line. She said she's never gone to a political rally before.
"This is a historic moment," she said. "This is the most important day for Sarah and the state."
Outside the convention hall, parked along 7th Avenue, was a stretched Hummer limo with a sign: "GO SARAH GO." American flags were propped along the Hummer's roof.
Inside, people held signs with messages like "Real VP's wear lipstick," "Hunters for Palin," and the ubiquitous "Drill Baby Drill." The campaign held a sign-making party the night before the rally, and no other signs were allowed in the morning of the event.
Republican party volunteers threw away signs that had ABC News anchor Charles Gibson's name crossed out and the words "unprofessional, biased, muckraker" written next to it. Palin granted Gibson exclusive interviews in Alaska and some of Palin's supporters evidently didn't like Gibson's approach.
Ardy Puzzi of the Anchorage Republican Women's Club said she threw out the anti-Gibson signs because "we don't want anything negative, we want to send a positive message."
Palin's speech was more about Alaska anecdotes than policy proposals, but she brought up the $1,200 energy rebate checks all Alaskans just received from the state's huge budget surplus, and said she and McCain want to do something similar in Washington, D.C.
"We're going to do that by bringing tax relief to all Americans across this great country," she said.
Palin said a lot of the campaign-related people who accompanied her to Alaska are making their first trip to the state.
"Like the rest of America they are learning a lot about Alaska. I got a kick out of it the other day, they were all craving espressos and I said, no problem, we've got mocha stands on every corner," Palin said.
She said the nation is also learning that "we've done some great work up here the last couple of years. You have helped shake things up in our state, and that is just what we are going to do in Washington, D.C."
Palin asserted "that old oil monopoly, service company influence that once controlled our state, we broke it. And that old network that used to run things around here, around Juneau especially, whatever they are running now, it's not the state of Alaska."
Palin has fought with the oil industry on taxes and other issues. But it was the FBI that ended the corrupt influence of the oil field service company Veco on state politics.
Palin said she's taken some criticism for being the governor of a sparsely populated state.
"It's at a time like this that I say, you know, thank you God for that," Palin said. "Because we're small enough to be family. And we can look past some political differences to work as a family."
The McCain campaign has limited access to Palin and she has refused all press interviews, other than with Gibson. She headed straight from the rally to her campaign plane but first took several minutes to shake hands and sign autographs for people in the audience, with music booming and Secret Service agents all around her.
"They're actually giving me a couple of minutes where I'm going to get to go through the rope line and I'm going to get to shake the hands of fellow Alaskans, thank you campaign staff," Palin said.
Audience members pressed closed and snapped pictures of Palin and her husband, Todd. At one point, the crowd chanted, "We want Piper," and Piper Palin scurried next to her dad to sign campaign signs with him, as the family was exiting the hall.