Her accusation — made before an overflow crowd of more than 8,000 at Home Depot Center’s tennis stadium in Carson, and earlier in the day at a Denver fundraiser — signaled an increasingly abrasive stance toward Obama on behalf of her running mate, Republican nominee John McCain.
In Carson, Palin signaled her intentions early on in her 23-minute speech.
“One of my campaign staff said as I was walking out here, ‘OK, the heels are on, the gloves are off,’ ” she said.
The “terrorists” to whom Palin was referring is William Ayers, founder of the 1960s radical group Weather Underground, who is now an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an acquaintance of Obama.
Palin began the attack with a wry observation about her disastrous Katie Couric interview — she appeared to draw a blank when asked which newspapers and magazines she reads. Palin, who later told Fox News that she reads the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications, said she was annoyed by Couric’s question.
Clearly buoyed by a well-received performance against her Democratic opponent, Sen. Joe Biden, in their only debate Thursday, Palin apologized for what she described as her “impatient” response to Couric.
“Evidently there’s been a lot of interest in what I read lately,” she said. “I was reading today a copy of the New York Times. And I was really interested to read in there about Barack Obama’s friends from Chicago. Turns out one of his earliest supporters is a man who, according to the New York Times, was a domestic terrorist, that, quote, ‘launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and the United States Capitol.’ ”
The New York Times article, an investigation published Friday into whether Obama had a relationship with Ayers, concluded that the men were never close and that Obama has denounced Ayers’ radical past, which occurred when Obama was a child. The article also said Obama “has played down his contacts with” Ayers.
“This is not a man who sees America as you and I see America,” Palin said of Obama. “We see America as a force for good in this world. We see America as a force for exceptionalism. . . . Our opponents see America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who would bomb their own country.”
The Obama campaign responded forcefully. “Gov. Palin’s comments, while offensive, are not surprising, given the McCain campaign’s statement this morning that they would be launching Swift Boat-like attacks in hopes of deflecting attention from the nation’s economic ills,” said spokesman Hari Sevugan.
“In fact, the very newspaper story Gov. Palin cited in hurling her shameless attack made clear that Sen. Obama is not close to Bill Ayers, much less ‘pals,’ and that he has strongly condemned the despicable acts Ayers committed 40 years ago, when Obama was 8. What’s clear is that John McCain and Sarah Palin would rather spend their time tearing down Barack Obama than laying out a plan to build up our economy.”
Republicans have long been expected to attack Obama on the issue. In August a major fundraiser for McCain spent $2.8 million on an ad by the American Issues Project that questioned Obama’s relationship with Ayers.
(The donor, Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, helped fund Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that damaged John F. Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign when it called his Navy service into question.)
The anti-Obama ad aired in Ohio and Michigan in the summer. Last week, the McCain campaign said it would pull out of Michigan, a tacit admission that it expected Obama to carry the state. Palin, who did not know the campaign pulled out of Michigan until she read about it Friday, according to McCain aides, implied Saturday in Denver that she regretted the decision.
“Well, as I said the other day, I would sure love to get to run to Michigan and make sure that Michigan knows we haven’t given up there,” Palin said as she left a diner after visiting with soldiers’ mothers. “We care much about Michigan and every other state.”
California is a reliably Democratic state in the presidential race — yet it also is a reliable source of cash for Republicans. After the Carson rally Saturday, Palin attended a fundraiser in Costa Mesa.
Today she is scheduled to headline a fundraiser in Burlingame, after which she is expected to leave for Florida. McCain, meanwhile, will take time off to prepare for his second debate with Obama, on Tuesday.
In Carson, Palin was interrupted numerous times by protesters, who were in turn shouted down by the crowd. She said that her father, Chuck Heath, was born in North Hollywood and that her grandfather was a Los Angeles photographer who specialized in shooting boxers. “I learned a few points about fighting from him,” she said.
Many people in the Carson crowd compared Palin favorably with Ronald Reagan.
“What’s wonderful about Sarah is that she’s liberated without being liberal,” said LaDell Jorgensen, 42, who drove from San Clemente for the rally. “She really connects with the old Ronnie Reagan patriotic people who love America.”
Paul Nissan, 56, of Culver City, said it gets kind of lonely being a Republican on the Westside of Los Angeles.
“What’s been set in motion with her makes it seem like California can get in the mix,” he said. “It’s encouraging for those of us out here in Reagan Country.”
Nissan’s friend, Jeanne Tanigawa, 57, said she was a McCain supporter even before he chose Palin.
“She’s like the cherry on top,” Tanigawa said.
Neither Nissan nor Tanigawa was bothered by Palin’s claim that Obama “would pal around with terrorists.”
“I’m aware of the background there,” Nissan said. “I think it’s down to where we’ve got to be blunt about associations and values. The ideological differences are so stark.”