They came by their tens of thousands to the town of Lady Lake in Central Florida, waiting patiently in the scorching sun for a chance to see Sarah Palin. According to some estimates as many as 60,000 people turned out.
“She's the sunrise, not the sunset,'' said Linda Cusumano, 57, of Orlando. “She makes me feel there's nothing we can't do.''
The Palin effect may be waning across the country, but in the retirement communities of central Florida, Alaska’s first term Governor struck fear into the heart of the Obama campaign over the weekend.
The Democrats are investing heavily in winning Florida after two consecutive defeats in presidential elections. But six weeks before the election, Barack Obama’s hopes of winning this important battleground remain in doubt. The last two elections saw Al Gore defeated by 537 votes in 2000 and John Kerry whipped by George Bush 52 to 47 per cent.
The Illinois Senator’s campaign has pumped in some $8m (£4.3m) in television advertising and is spending much of the week in Tampa preparing for the first presidential debate in Mississippi on Friday.
The polls show the Florida race is a dead heat, but the McCain campaign is confident that it has the vital momentum it needs to win. As many US states turn their back on the Republicans, the polls show that Florida, with its trove of 27 electoral votes, continues to lean towards Senator McCain.
And the dynamic newcomer and running mate Mrs Palin is a large part of the campaign’s winning formula. Her appearance at Lady lake, at the weekend thrilled the conservative base and estimates of the crowd ranged from 25,000 to 30,000.
''The South is Palin Country,'' said a banner trailing from a plane overhead, a reminder that central Florida is culturally closer to the American South than it is to cosmopolitan and liberal South Florida. The latest Miami Herald poll shows that 40 per cent of McCain voters say Governor Palin made them feel better about their choice.
Senator Obama keeps reminding his supporters that there are many roads to the White House. “I tell you we can this thing without Florida,” he said at a weekend fundraiser. “But boy, it’s a lot easier if we win Florida. If we win Florida, it is almost impossible for John McCain to win.”
The McCain camp hopes that Florida will fall into its lap, noting that despite having his opponent’s 50 offices and 100,000 volunteers the polls remain on a knife edge. The polls can miss young and newly registered voters. The Obama campaign is on target to register 600,000 enthusiastic new black voters hoping to change the state’s electoral map in its favour.
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