Palin appealing in Pennsylvania

Byron York:

If John McCain wins Pennsylvania on Tuesday — a question that’s shaping up as perhaps the most critical of the campaign — it will be because of places like this. Situated on the border between Cumberland and Franklin counties, Shippensburg is in the south-central part of the state. Like other towns in the area, it’s between 90 and 95 percent white; about 15 to 20 percent of people over the age of 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher; and the median household income is about $45,000.

Voters in the Democratic primary in this area chose Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama by about a two-to-one margin. Just to the east, Obama did a bit better. To the west, Clinton cleared 70 percent. In 2004, George W. Bush won 71 percent of the vote in Franklin County and 64 percent in Cumberland.

Which is why Sarah Palin has come to Shippensburg, to Heiges Field House on the campus of tiny Shippensburg University. It’s freezing outside, or at least it feels like it’s freezing in the high wind, but thousands of people are waiting outdoors for a chance to see Palin. When they finally make it inside the building, they cheer when Palin goes on the offensive, hitting Barack Obama on his associations, his tax plan, his energy plan, his lack of experience — pretty much the whole spectrum of issues. And they really cheer when she says, “It is not mean-spirited, and it is not negative campaigning, to call someone out on their record, and their plans, and their associations.” And then does just that.

It’s connecting; this is an audience that knows its Bill Ayers from its Rashid Khalidi. But here in Pennsylvania, white working-class voters seem to remember one thing about Obama above everything else: his remark, made six months ago, that when the economy goes bad, people like them, in places like this, “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” That rankled them at the time, and it rankles them now.

“We were referred to as ‘bitter’ because we treasure the Second Amendment and choose to practice our faith on a daily basis,” Rob Kauffman, a local state representative, tells the crowd before Palin arrives. “Ladies and gentlemen, they just don’t get it.”

Huge cheers. And still more when Palin talks about “a candidate who would lavish praise on working people when they are listening, and then talk about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when they aren’t listening.” As the audience roars, she adds, “You know what I’m talking about! We tend to prefer candidates who don’t talk about us one way in Shippensburg and another way in San Francisco!”

Here’s a tip for the McCain-Palin campaign: If you really want to win Pennsylvania, you might want to make sure that everyone in the state hears Obama’s “bitter clinging” soundbite at least once an hour from now until Election Day.

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Here at Shippensburg University, they have a motto — not the official motto of the school, of course, but one everybody knows: SHIP HAPPENS. Students wear t-shirts with the phrase block-lettered across the front and nobody bats an eye. So after leaving the Field House, and out of range of most photographers, Palin dons a SHIP HAPPENS shirt of her own. Of course the overflow crowd loves it. And if you’ve taken as much grief as Palin has, for clothing as well as nearly everything else, why not?

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I think she will have quite a shirt collection before this campaign is over and this may be one of the most famous. She is where she needs to be in this campaign and she is an effective spokesman for it.

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