CLEARWATER — Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin lived up to her "Barracuda" nickname Monday morning in Clearwater, ripping Barack Obama as an unpatriotic tax raiser who is friendly with terrorists and does not support American troops abroad.
The McCain campaign is aiming in the final 30 days of the race to focus less on specific economic issues and more on raising questions about Obama's character. Palin made clear Monday that she will be a chipper and relentless attack dog.
"I am just so fearful that this is not a man who sees America the way that you and I see America, as the greatest source for good in this world," she told thousands of supporters gathered at Coachman Park in downtown Clearwater.
"There's a pattern here of a left-wing agenda that is packaged and prettied up to look like mainstream policies," Palin said. "The problem with our opponent's agenda is that higher taxes and bigger government and activist courts and retreat in war, that's not the right track for our country. That's another dead end."
Kicking off a two-day swing through Florida for campaign rallies and fundraisers, Palin, 44, was upbeat and energetic as she delivered the most aggressively negative campaign speech Florida has seen this election cycle. The campaign encouraged reporters to focus on the part of her speech where she hit Obama for associating with '60s radical Will Ayers, a founder of the organization Weather Underground that bombed buildings in the 1970s.
Palin raised the Ayers subject immediately after saying she wished the media would focus on substantive issues that matter to average Americans: Obama "is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to work with a former domestic terrorist who had targeted his own country," said Palin, citing a New York Times article this weekend that concluded Obama and Ayers "do not appear to have been close" though their paths crossed several times.
With recent polls showing Obama opening leads in battleground states including Florida, the McCain campaign is ramping up its attacks to make the election a referendum on Obama.
"What we're seeing is that as the financial and economic crisis broadens in America and more and more people are directly effected, the McCain campaign has decided it's got to change the subject," said Democratic former Florida Sen. Bob Graham.
Negative campaigning often works, but McCain risks not only a potential backlash from voters disenchanted with personal attacks, but also inviting aggressive attacks in response from the Obama campaign.
The Obama campaign on Monday unveiled a Web site and documentary highlighting McCain's involvement in the "Keating Five" savings and loan scandal. The Senate Ethics Committee in 1991 rebuked McCain for "poor judgment" in meeting with regulators on behalf of his friend and financial supporter Charles Keating, who went to prison for fraud.
Palin charmed the crowd, estimated by police at 4,500 and the Pinellas GOP at 10,000, with a shoutout to the Tampa Bay Rays — saying she knew what it was like to be underestimated by experts — and joking about her "less than successful" interview with Katie Couric recently.
"What I should have told them was I was just trying to keep Tina Fey in business," she said of the comic who mimics her on Saturday Night Live.
She said McCain would promote energy independence and encouraged a round of "Drill, baby, drill!" chants.
"God has so richly blessed you here," Palin said. "Look at these sources of energy here in Florida that are still sitting untapped. And we'll tap into them, along with environmentally friendly offshore production. We do need to drill here and drill now."
Both campaigns are expected to spend a lot of time and money in Florida.
"Florida, you know that you're going to have to hang on to your hats because from now until Election Day, it may get kind of rough," Palin said.
Staff writer Will Van Sant contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.