Clearwater got a good look at Sarah Palin on Monday as the vice presidential candidate delivered a rousingly partisan speech in Coachman Park. • To her left, Coast Guard boats patrolled Clearwater Harbor. To her right, a huge American flag hung from a crane near the Clearwater library. In front of her, an enthusiastic crowd got fired up. • Here's how the historic day unfolded, minute by minute:
Gary Patton, 28, of Wesley Chapel is first in line at the fenced-off park. "I want to meet Sarah Palin," he says. "She's hot."
A handful of people in line watch Palin's motorcade cross the Clearwater Memorial Causeway. Her entourage spends the night at a beach hotel.
Coffee-craving customers wait outside the downtown Starbucks a half-hour before it opens.
In the dark, a line snakes past the library for two blocks as people file through a row of metal detectors. T-shirts say "Sarahcuda" and "Palin Power." A few bright-eyed families filter through a downtown that's deserted except for homeless people and police.
The first protester shows up. He is jeered.
Standing in line with her grandparents, 10-year-old Reagan Erickson clutches a glittery sign she made that says Reagan thinks Palin rocks.
"I saw on TV how she likes to go to the shooting range sometimes. And I think she's pretty," says Reagan, a Lakeland fourth-grader.
A volunteer tells the family that signs aren't allowed; the campaign already has its own signs. Reagan and her grandmother take turns holding the sign, waiting for someone official to take it away. When they get to the security gate, Reagan folds the sign in half. She makes it through, the sign still in her hands.
Later, her grandfather gets Palin to sign it.
Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard warms up the crowd. He'll act as emcee all morning, introducing a lineup of local politicos, singing children and veterans.
Greg Pound, a write-in candidate for Pinellas County sheriff, gets escorted out of the park by Secret Service agents in casual shirts. Pound recently was arrested and charged with trespassing after he refused to leave a local Republican event.
While the crowd's attention is focused on a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, a grandmother on a blanket tends to two small girls in constant motion. The girls' mother, Jennifer Rohrbough of Clearwater, says, "My concern about this election is that the decisions that we make today are going to affect my daughters' future. McCain and Palin are what I want for today and the future."
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker gives the morning's first shout-out to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Palm Harbor neighbors Susanne Edson and Lori Horne are dressed in matching T-shirts with Palin's face on them. Edson, 57, says Barack Obama is one of the most radical left politicians in the government: "He's put on a white mask and he's not presenting himself as he really is.''
Nearby, Obama supporter Dominic Grillo, 76, of Dunedin has come here out of curiosity and considers Palin an example of John McCain's poor judgment: "She's certainly a smart woman, but she's certainly not presidential material.''
Congressman C.W. Bill Young compares Palin to Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir. Congressman Gus Bilirakis leads the crowd in a chant of "Drill, baby, drill!" Gov. Charlie Crist talks up McCain and introduces his fiancee.
The motorcade arrives. The crowd goes nuts.
Palin takes the stage with U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, who introduces her.
Palin speaks for 22 minutes, working the crowd into a frenzy by hitting familiar themes: cut taxes, shrink government, honor veterans, drill for oil off the coast, and Obama has a left-wing agenda.
Odom McAllister and his brother stand quietly beneath an oak tree.
"I know many of you out there are veterans," Palin says. "Raise your hand. Let us applaud you."
McAllister, 33, of New Port Richey raises a fist. His cap says USS Kitty Hawk CV 63.
When the speech ends, he'll flag down a passing Vietnam veteran to shake his hand. He'll get Palin to sign his cap and pose with him for a photo.
"I've always had a crush on Tina Fey, so it's just incredible," he says. "Girls in library glasses ... "
Finishing her speech, Palin plunges into the crowd. Bracketed by four Secret Service agents, she signs everything she's handed. People raise cameras and children over their heads to get a better look.
For the first time all morning, the sun comes out.
Waving and blowing kisses, Palin leaves. Speakers are playing U2's Beautiful Day.
Clearwater police tally up the numbers: Two people ejected, nobody arrested. Five reports of heat-related medical issues, none serious. They estimate the crowd at 4,500, though local GOP officials say there were more.
A line is waiting for shuttle buses while other people walk toward wherever they've stashed their cars.
In the rest of the city, the day is just beginning.
Times staff writers Jonathan Abel, Theresa Blackwell, Mike Brassfield, Lorri Helfand, Demorris A. Lee and Eileen Schulte