NEW PORT RICHEY — GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin will lead a rally Saturday in Sims Park, hoping to rekindle President Bush's success among Pasco's suburban voters.
A 9 a.m. speech by Palin, Sen. John McCain's running mate, will start off a day of campaigning in three states by Alaska's governor. Then she will go to Polk City before visiting North Carolina and Virginia in one of the final pushes before Tuesday's election.
The Palin rally will be at the same park where Bush attracted about 6,000 people on his way to re-election in 2004. His success winning voters in the suburbs helped clinch his victory in Florida that year. Bush won Pasco by 10 percentage points after narrowly losing it in 2000.
But some Republicans acknowledge their ticket faces a tighter race now. In a sign of vigor, Joe Biden, Democrat Barack Obama's running mate, campaigned at Sims Park Monday — the kind of appearance local Democrats hadn't seen for three decades.
"I think it'll be close," said state Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, adding that McCain is in position to win, but it will be a "challenge."
New Port Richey represents a chance for Palin — whose star power has drawn bigger crowds than McCain receives — to reach out to suburbanite and working-class voters on their turf.
More important, she can reach the Tampa Bay market, Florida's biggest battleground for swing voters.
"I think the message needs to be simple," said Weatherford, who represents a suburban district in Pasco and Hillsborough counties. "We have a known quantity in John McCain. We have an unknown quantity in Barack Obama."
Bill Bunting, chairman of the Pasco Republicans and McCain's county effort, said he still expects McCain to win Pasco in the mid 50 percent range, down from a 59 percent prediction he made in late August. Bush received 54 percent four years ago.
"I just think she has to go out there and be herself," Bunting said, suggesting Palin will hit Obama on his plan to raise taxes for families earning more than $250,000 a year.
Democrats are discussing holding their own rally outside the Palin event. About 30 Republicans demonstrated Monday during Biden's appearance.
"She'll talk to her base, but we know that she wouldn't be coming here unless they were concerned about the election," said Alison Morano, chairwoman of the Pasco Democratic Party.
David DeCamp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232.