Nate’s report on the McCain-Palin rally in Fairfax

Since Virginia is considered a “swing state” this year, it appears the campaigns will be making a lot of stops in my area. Today the McCain/Palin campaign was in Fairfax, VA for a rally. Let me preface this my saying that if and when the Obama/Biden campaign is in the area, I will be attending for a similar report as well. This post and report is not so much about the message presented as simply an observation of what happens at these types of rallies. I’ve never attended one before for either party so I was delighted to get the chance, which I would have taken for either the McCain or Obama campaign. It still short of Obama’s ability to draw crowds of 75,000 but it was a massive, overwhelming success for McCain at an estimated 23,000 people.

I will begin this with a report from the local CBS affiliate in Washington, DC:

Another report from the Washington Post:

Republican presidential nominee John McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, took their bid for the White House to Northern Virginia yesterday, rallying thousands of supporters by vowing to shake up Washington and saying they will fight for votes in the increasingly Democratic region.

The appearance at Van Dyck Park in Fairfax City marked the Arizona senator’s first campaign stop in the state since the Feb. 12 primary, and served as one of Palin’s first public events in front of the suburban voters who could determine the race in Virginia and several other battleground states.

Throngs of GOP supporters from across the Washington region turned the park into a sea of red, wearing T-shirts to symbolize their belief that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) won’t turn Virginia blue this year.

The McCain campaign and Fairfax City police estimate that 23,000 people crammed into the park, which, if accurate, would make yesterday’s rally McCain’s largest in the campaign, his aides said.

The rally, coupled with a barrage of television ads in the Northern Virginia market, shows the strategic importance of Fairfax and the region if the candidate is to win Virginia. Obama, meanwhile, was campaigning in Norfolk, also a crucial region for taking the state.

Many of the people at the rally said they came to see Palin, reinforcing a growing sense among state Republicans that she has energized the party’s conservative base in a way that will make it difficult for Obama to win Virginia.

After McCain and Palin took the stage to the song “Eye of the Tiger,” they said they, not Obama, will reform Washington by curtailing wasteful spending, expanding oil drilling and winning the war in Iraq.

The event, as you may know, was originally scheduled to take place at Fairfax High School. However, holding political events during school hours is against the district’s policy. The superintendent went above and beyond to waive that requirement and let them hold the rally on school grounds. That didn’t sit well with the school board which, during emergency session, tried to get it canceled at the school. The mayor of Fairfax hinted at bias during his welcome speech but stated that the school had done them a favor since they would have only been able to fit about 6,500 people at the school. I don’t know the truth but will continue investigating this issue. Now, onto my observations.

The first thing which came to my mind was the level of detail to which the campaign staffers go to present the most immaculate, polished image to the media. The same would be similar for an Obama campaign event. I watched for about 2 hours as the campaign officials took tape, box cutters, and markers fixing the sign in front of the podium.

Another thing which stood out to me was the selection of the people sitting behind the stage and podium, the people visible on the media coverage. I could not help but notice, as with reports from Obama events, how several African-American supporters were strategically placed in view along with other key demographics. You’d see the same thing from the Obama campaign which I had reported on previously. As a white male, my chances of landing a spot back there were probably slim to none, but so it goes with campaign messages. There was a mix of families, young people, and various nationalities, it was the most diverse area in the crowd. You can see the setup slowly in my video below as the bleachers are populated.

As we walked in, there were some Obama supporters and some anti-war McCain protesters holding signs. My favorite was a polar bear walking around to fight global warming. The protesting groups were kept in the front area and had their own area from which to demonstrate. I was waiting to whole event for some disruption but it never came.

Having never attended any political rally ever before, I don’t have anything to judge this by. I would love to attend an Obama event as well to judge the energy. That being said, I’ll give you my impression.

First and foremost, I’d say probably 65-75% of the attendees were there to see Gov. Sarah Palin. I can see now why they have not begun campaigning separately as this is basically the McCain campaign’s awakening. The Obama supporters out front were yelling things such as “She’s only a Vice President!,” which is true but that didn’t seem to concern any of the McCain/Palin supporters, they were just there to see her speak.

Prior to the main show, Senator Fred Thompson also spoke to introduce McCain and Palin along with other various McCain supporters such as a former Hillary Clinton supporter and a small business owner from northern Virginia. You can see them all in the video below.

What struck me most about Palin’s speech was that it was simply a continuation of her convention speech, maybe a new line or two addressing recent Obama criticisms. However, neither Palin nor McCain mentioned the “lipstick on a pig” comment which didn’t surprise me. The crowd was excited for her speech, however, I’m betting most of the them had already heard her stump speech for days following the convention. We heard about the jet on eBay, the bridge to nowhere, and the other items she ran through at the convention. I think the crowd wanted to be more excited, perhaps hoping she’d go off script and speak about Obama or more of the immediate campaign issues.

McCain’s lines seemed more refreshed than his usual talks, he seemed energized and enthused, which couldn’t always be said for him. I’m assuming that to be getting these sized crowds, he’s got to be renewed in feeling like they have a serious chance at winning perhaps.

Another interesting thing to note was how the crowd, most of which I’m betting didn’t used to be this enthused about supporting McCain, were all upbeat and excited. They were there to see and support Palin along with McCain. It seems that Palin’s popularity has rubbed off a bit on McCain in that the supporters seemed much more accepting of their disagreements with him now that she’s on the ticket.

It occurred to me a short time into the event that we might witness some campaign-changing moment if there is a gaffe or some strong criticism delivered. After all, these rallies seem to be where the most off-the-cuff remarks come from if they’re not scripted. Today seemed very scripted except for McCain’s stump which he seemed to branch out on a bit. However, there were no gaffes today nor campaign-changing sound bites.

Today simply provided the McCain/Palin campaign a story about very large crowds, the largest they’ve had at any rally so far. The supporters were excited and I can tell you that it probably felt similar to an Obama rally when you see those large crowds. That being said, I’ve haven’t gotten the chance to attend an Obama rally so I can’t really judge.

Here is about an hour of worth of video I took during the event, Google Video wouldn’t let me upload the full 90 minutes for some reason. It is unedited and raw so you will experience basically what I experienced. It’s interesting to watch regardless of who you support to see how these rallies work on the ground. It’s hosted on Google Video so feel free to embed or use for your own purposes:

This is a great time to state that if anyone attends a future Obama/Biden or McCain/Palin event from anywhere in the country and has some pictures, video, or comments on it, please email them to me at [email protected] and I’ll definitely post them.