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Saturday, I was among the 10,000 who attended the McCain/Palin campaign rally in Colorado Springs. I was covering the event for Salon.com and the McCain campaign was very cordial about granting me a press pass.
For a few hours before Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin arrived, local politicians and radio host Dan Caplis commandeered the microphones, their speeches and commentary blaring through huge sets of speakers on the tarmac outside the hangar.
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The talking points clearly were coordinated: There was no reference to evangelical issues like abortion, stem cell research or the personhood amendment that will be on the Colorado ballot in November. Patriotism was the theme of the day and insults to, not just criticism of, Democratic candidates and members of Congress were plentiful.
Dan Caplis tried to convince any Democrats present to vote for McCain-Palin by announcing that his wife, Aimee Sporer, was a Democrat who had decided to vote for McCain-Palin.
Also in attendance and seemingly repeating the talking points from speeches heard at the Republican National Conventon were U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers.
As I wrote at Salon,
There was a lot of chanting. In addition to the now familiar “Drill Now” and “U.S.A., U.S.A.” there was “Viva, McCain,” which came on the heels of a put-down of Colorado’s Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar. … One of the speakers led the crowd in a long chant of “Boo” following his criticism of Democratic senatorial candidate Mark Udall. ….Another speaker said the next 60 days would be “a dogfight.” He got confused and called McCain a pit bull, correcting himself immediately to note that McCain was the bulldog and Palin the pit bull, and asked the crowd, “If you were in a dogfight, who would you want on your side?”
There was the now familiar “McCain won’t surrender to our enemies” theme and a jab at Sen. Obama’s “present” votes.” McCain and Palin were presented as the real agents of change. Interspersed with the campaign speeches and rhetoric, the most patriotic of music, from God Bless America to Glory, Glory Hallelujah, played through the massive sound speakers.
As a final touch, the McCain campaign handed out thousands of flags, repeating the incendiary and hotly denied claim that Democrats had thrown them away at Invesco field. By the time McCain and Palin arrived, the field was awash in red, white and blue and love for the U.S.A.
It was perfect for Colorado Springs, our second largest city with its abundance of military and evangelical voters.
All of the speakers, from Caplis to Sen. McCain, made it clear that Colorado (and El Paso County in particular) are critical to the November election. Yet they ignored the elephant in the room — the conservative social issues of abortion, stem-cell research, gay marriage and even abstinence-only education.
It was a smart move. The evangelical voters are already on board with the McCain-Palin ticket. The McCain campaign didn’t need their issues being replayed on the evening news, potentially alienating non-evangelical female and independent voters.
Now the question arises, will the non-evangelical female and independent voters buy the negative talking points the McCain campaign and its surrogates are peddling about Obama and the Democrats? On one little snippet of video I have, you can hear the speaker trying to lead the crowd in that “Viva John McCain” chant. There weren’t many takers. Maybe negative campaigning is not the way to sell John McCain to those not already supporting him.