GREENVILLE — As thousands of supporters cheered, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin pledged Tuesday night to bring the federal government back to the people, saying she and GOP presidential contender John McCain have the best solution to bring the nation out of its economic slump.
Palin, playing the attacker in a state the GOP is struggling to keep in its column, also unleashed a volley against Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. She called him untruthful and said he would raise taxes, lose the war in Iraq and increase the size of government.
"Here in North Carolina, you can help put us in D.C. to help put the government back on your side," she said. "We are joining you to look for the future, because that's where you find the solutions."
Palin's was the first public event in North Carolina by a member of the Republican ticket. Tickets disappeared in hours, with some being sold later for as much as $100.
Palin's visit came as recent national and North Carolina polls have indicated that the Democratic ticket of Obama and Sen. Joe Biden is surging as the country continues to reel from one economic blow after another.
Obama has targeted North Carolina, which has typically gone for Republicans in recent presidential elections, as a potential swing state this year. Obama's campaign said Tuesday night that Palin's visit was yet another indication that North Carolina voters could have an impact on the outcome of the presidential contest.
"North Carolina is in play, and her visit here is a sign that they're running out of time," said Susan Lagana, communications director for the North Carolina Obama campaign.
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, a Winston-Salem Republican, told the crowd that Greenville could make the difference in November. The diverse county went solidly Republican in the past three presidential elections as Democrats crossed party lines for the GOP. But polls show a tightening race in North Carolina, and Pitt County is seeing an influx of newcomers to its medical and higher education sectors.
Just a few months ago, Obama campaigned down the road to a similarly-sized crowd at Pitt County Community College.
Palin supporters who made it inside East Carolina University's Williams Arena on Tuesday evening showed plenty of enthusiasm. They chanted "Drill Baby Drill!" or "USA" or "No-bama!" throughout the speech. They waved campaign signs, wore handmade Palin T-shirts and hollered through her speech.
"I thought it was great," Mike Todd, 36, a nurse anestheticist from Greenville, said after the speech. "Truthful. Honesty. Down-to-earth speech. Energetic."
"I think it’s a fresh new voice for the country," said Scott Rogers, 33, a train master for the railroad in Rocky Mount. "I just think she brings a new outside view, outside of the circle of Washington."
Palin spoke for about half an hour, reading mostly from a teleprompter, delivering her popular charm along with attacks on Obama. Palin called Obama's plan for the country "a left-wing agenda that's been prettied up to look like mainstream policies."
Palin pledged to help families keep their homes and help more youth attend college. She also touted McCain's plan to offer families $5,000 tax credits to pay for health insurance — a plan she said was better than Obama's idea for near-universal health care.
"The phoniest claim in a campaign that's been full of them is that Barack Obama's going to cut your taxes," Palin said. She then gave two examples — one of them disproven by independent fact checkers, the other questioned by independent media.
First, she said, Obama "has voted 94 times for higher taxes."
(A nonpartisan group, factcheck.org, declared the claim "misleading." Obama voted 23 times against proposed tax cuts. In seven of the votes, taxes would be lowered for many people but raised for either corporations or wealthy individuals. Another 53 votes were non-binding budget resolutions, not tax bills. Factcheck.org says he did vote repeatedly to restore taxes on the wealthy, but not for the middle- or low-income.)
Second, Palin added, Obama once voted to raise taxes on those earning $42,000 a year.
(According to factcheck.org, this is correct, but only for single earners. Married couples would have had to earn nearly twice as much.)
Obama's campaign said Palin is continuing to stretch the truth on Obama's record.
"She continues to recycle the same attacks that are not true and clearly not working," Lagana said.
Despite the attacks, Palin brought the greatest applause in this military-friendly community when she praised the troops.
First, she asked for a show of hands of those who have served in the military. Dozens of hands shot up around the arena.
Later, she said she'd tell folks what her running mate doesn't: "Truthfully, John McCain is the only man in this race who has ever really fought for you."
If Pitt County helps turn North Carolina for one candidate or the other, Palin has helped McCain pick up at least two votes in Greenville: those of Wayne and Terri Hollenbaugh.
"I didn't like McCain. I still don't," said Wayne Hollenbaugh, 46, a stay-at-home dad in Greenville. He would have either stayed home or voted for Sen. Barack Obama — a man he considers both radical and a Marxist.
His wife, Terri, 45, a property manager who works in Raleigh, is a Libertarian who would have voted for Bob Barr in November.
But Palin's nomination changed all that. The Hollenbaughs think she should, in fact, top the ticket.
"Cause she's the best candidate," Terri Hollenbaugh said. "When you're a mayor you run a town. When you're governor you run a state. The next step is president."
Following the rally, Palin stopped at the new Boli's on the Boulevard restaurant for some pizza while she caught the presidential debate between McCain and Obama on television.
Ryan Teague Beckwith of the Raleigh News & Observer contributed to this report.