September 8, 2008 / 10:35 PM / 11 years ago

UPDATE 1-Sarah Palin boosts John McCain's campaign

(Updates with more opinion polls)

By Jeff Mason

ALBUQUERQUE, Sept 8 (Reuters) - John McCain’s backers are reveling in the crowds his White House campaign has drawn in the 10 days since he made Alaska’s little-known governor, Sarah Palin, his running mate.

“Governor, you’re a breath of fresh air,” Ken Starrs, a police lieutenant from Corpus Christi, Texas, told Palin, 44, at a Detroit ceremony where the political pair picked up an endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police union.

“She’s very real,” he said after they shook hands.

Critics have questioned the 72-year-old Republican senator’s judgment in choosing a vice presidential candidate without high-profile experience. Palin has been governor since 2006. Her previous public service was as a small-town mayor.

Democrat Barack Obama, 47, has raised far more cash in the race for the Nov. 4 election. He has sought to paint McCain as heir to Republican President George W. Bush’s unpopular policies. But McCain and Palin are holding their own.

Five public opinion polls released on Monday showed McCain and Obama essentially dead even as they headed into the final eight weeks of the race for the White House.

McCain has decided to keep Palin with him on the trail a few more days before sending her out to campaign on her own.

“I saw a new McCain today, and I’m very excited,” said Bonnie Norris, 63, after a lively performance by the Arizona senator in Albuquerque. “He’s opened up more. He’s more dynamic.”

Some 15,000 people turned out to see McCain name his vice presidential pick in Dayton, Ohio, on Aug. 29. To soaring music and high drama, Palin entered the stage with her family like a new, if somewhat baffled, rock star.

‘SARAH, SARAH’

Not known for the inspiring oratory that is Obama’s trademark, McCain has since soaked up some of the energy generated by Palin, who is greeted with shouts of “Sarah, Sarah” at most rallies.

“She’s ignited America,” McCain declared in New Mexico on Saturday night. “The response to her has been overwhelming.”

At the Albuquerque rally, which packed more than 6,000 people into a tight hall, McCain’s “Straight Talk Express” bus pulled up and dropped the candidates in front of the crowd while Van Halen’s song “Right Now” blasted over loudspeakers.

The many signs ranged from “Sarah, you had USA at hello” to “Lipstick wearing pitbulls for McCain,” a reference to her quip at the Republican convention suggesting lipstick was the only thing to distinguish a pit bull from a “hockey mom.”

Aides said their relationship was cementing quickly.

“They knew each other a little (before), obviously, but they’re getting to know each other well,” said Mark Salter, McCain’s closest aide and speechwriter.

“They’re very excited about these rallies. They’re talking about them, they’re looking at each other for marks. You know, they’re talking to each other about policy, about energy policy and a couple other things. They’re getting along very well.”

On the day McCain introduced Palin as his running mate, she referred to him as “senator” and to his wife Cindy as “Mrs. McCain.” Do they call each other by first names now? “Yeah, I believe so,” Salter said.

Palin, who precedes him now at rallies with a rousing reference to McCain’s service as a Vietnam prisoner of war, added a new bit to her introduction on Friday in Michigan: “I am honored to introduce to you my running mate, my friend.” (Editing by Howard Goller and Todd Eastham)

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