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Sarah Palin peps up Florida Republicans at Orlando rally

ORLANDO — Ten days out from Election Day, former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin rallied with the top of the Republican ticket and delivered marching orders to a state that could help swing the balance of power in Congress.

The former Alaska governor and potential presidential candidate rarely paused for a breath in an exuberant, 30-minute speech trashing President Barack Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress for spending too much and accomplishing too little.

The event at the Marriott World Center hotel felt like a mini-convention, with a live band, booths selling campaign T-shirts and buttons, and voters waving American flags and placards. Florida Republicans are gunning for a handful of Democratic congressional seats in Washington and vying to expand their grip on Tallahassee.

"Aren't you proud to be an American, and don't you love your freedom?" asked Palin, as more than 1,000 voters who had paid $20.10 each roared in response.

She urged the crowd to work hard on behalf of Republican candidates until Election Day, which she said presents "life-and-death choices." Polls suggest the GOP has momentum on its side, with five statewide seats in Florida up for grabs: U.S. Senate, governor, and the three Cabinet posts of attorney general, chief financial officer and agriculture commissioner.

"Now is not the time to let up," Palin said. "Now is the time to dig deep."

Palin was joined by the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, and much of the top GOP leadership in Florida.

There were two noticeable absences: gubernatorial nominee Rick Scott and attorney general candidate Pam Bondi. Both had excuses — Scott had been scheduled to attend a Jacksonville barbecue, for example — but their decision to campaign elsewhere suggested efforts to appeal to a broader cross section of Democrats and independents in the last leg of the campaign.

Scott's race against Democrat Alex Sink is the closest of the marquee races.

Attorney General Bill McCollum, who waited about two months to endorse Scott after a hard-fought GOP primary, made a brief appearance at the rally.

U.S. Senate front-runner Marco Rubio spoke at the rally but left before Palin came on stage.

He took a couple of swipes at his rivals, Democratic U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek and Gov. Charlie Crist, who left the Republican Party nearly six months ago to run as an independent. Rubio quipped that the Senate race offered a choice between "a Republican, a Democrat and an opportunist."

Meek campaigned Saturday in West Palm Beach, while Crist's campaign said he was spending the day with his family and preparing for Sunday's 9 a.m. debate on CNN. Crist's campaign schedule has been light in recent weeks as polls show Rubio pulling further ahead.

Palin was the latest entrant in a parade of past and potentially future presidential candidates who have passed through Florida in recent weeks seeking to galvanize Republican voters and shore up their own images.

She got a pat on the back Friday from former Gov. Jeb Bush, who said "You betcha" when asked by CNN's John King if he would support Palin if she is the 2012 nominee.

"I think she's done a lot for the party by putting Republicans in the spotlight," said 78-year-old Greta Weiss, who described herself as "retired except for politics" and wore about a half-dozen campaign stickers.

Some voters at the rally said they would like to see Palin run for president but doubted the national media would treat her fairly.

"She's been crucified so much that I don't know if she would have a chance," said 54-year-old Terry Hart, who lives in Orlando.

Democrats sought to turn Palin's visit into a wedge and a fundraising tool. "Can you donate $10 now to help us show Sarah Palin that her agenda has no place in Florida?" asked the state party in an e-mail.

Sarah Palin peps up Florida Republicans at Orlando rally 10/23/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 23, 2010 10:15pm]
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