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Palin in Florida at critical time for McCain

As Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin arrives in Clearwater this morning for a blockbuster tour of Florida, she will be flying around with Gov. Charlie Crist, while scooping up campaign cash and enthusiasm for the Republican presidential ticket.

Palin's high-profile visit, her second to Florida, comes at a pivotal time. Polls show Democrat Barack Obama is now reaping a reward in the polls for having spent millions in advertising over the summer, and Florida Republicans have begun to question the strategy of Sen. John McCain's campaign in the state.

As an apparent sign of the tension between the state party and the McCain campaign, Florida Republican Party chairman Jim Greer is welcome to attend the events, as long as he makes his own travel arrangements.

The snub comes after Greer forced a tense, top-secret meeting Tuesday with McCain's Florida team and offered a critical take on what it needs to do to prevail in the must-win state.

Greer had already drawn stares from fellow Republicans for comments he made to the New York Times about Palin's shaky TV interviews with Katie Couric.

"She needs to be briefed more on certain aspects," he said. "She continues to be viewed very positively by the base of the party, but she needs to demonstrate that she's got the knowledge and ability to be president should the need arise."

The intramural distraction will surely be overshadowed by the huge crowds expected for Palin, who remains a darling of the Republican Party base even as critics, some within the GOP, question her fitness for the role of vice president.

In addition to Clearwater, she has events planned in Fort Myers, Jacksonville and Pensacola.

So many tickets were requested in Fort Myers that the campaign moved the event to a larger location.

In Jacksonville, the McCain-Palin office set up a two-lane drive-through system Friday to hand out free tickets to Palin's rally, and at one point the line was three blocks long.

Palin's trip is a crucial moment for the McCain campaign. At least four polls last week showed Obama with the lead, though a Florida Chamber of Commerce survey released on Friday had McCain with a slight edge.

McCain's top political advisers acknowledge he will have to step up the effort. In a conference call Thursday, they noted how President Bush won Florida four years ago but only after waging a "very aggressive" campaign.

"It was not a state that anyone would have considered safe throughout the election," political director Mike DuHaime said on the same day word got out that McCain would pull out of Michigan, once thought to be a battleground state.

The McCain campaign wants more than votes in Florida — it wants cash. Palin's less visible but equally important goal for her visit: raising $3-million.

The fundraisers are today at a resort in Boca Raton and at the Naples home of Republican donor Jack Donahue, reportedly at $10,000 per person; and Tuesday at the Jacksonville Jaguars' football stadium.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut is expected to join Palin in Florida.

But Greer isn't sure how much he'll be around. He said he expects to participate in Palin events today but would get his own transportation. He has flown with McCain on recent visits and denied he was being shut out with Palin.

"This time," he said, "I guess it's a smaller plane."

Palin in Florida at critical time for McCain 10/05/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 8, 2008 5:07pm]

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