RICHMOND, Va. -- Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin accidentally mistook some of her own fans for protesters Monday.
A massive crowd of at least 20,000 spread across the parking lot of Richmond International Raceway. Many on the outer periphery, more than 100 yards from the stage, couldn't hear.
They started chanting, "Louder! Louder!" Palin thought they were protesters, looked toward them and said, "I hope those protesters have the courage and honor to give veterans thanks for their right to protest."
At her first solo appearance in Virginia, Palin likened the weeks left on the campaign to a close auto race.
Some in the crowd had stood in place for more than three hours on a sunny day without shade.
The Richmond event followed an earlier Republican-ticket event in Virginia Beach. Sen. John McCain pledged to fight for a new direction for the country in a campaign stump speech that sought to distance him from the economic policies of President George W. Bush.
"We cannot spend the next four years as we have spent much of the last eight: waiting for our luck to change," McCain said while campaigning in a once reliably Republican state that has become a battleground this year. "The hour is late; our troubles are getting worse; our enemies watch. We have to act immediately. We have to change direction now."
Political coverage from NBC4.
He insisted he understood Americans' concerns about the deepening financial crisis, even as fears about the meltdown have moved voters firmly in Democrat Barack Obama's direction in recent weeks.
The repudiation of the Republican incumbent's economic policies came as McCain has struggled to find a message that would reverse his sagging poll results nationally and in some battleground states. Yet, McCain echoed a line from President George H.W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush, about Democrats "measuring the drapes" that proved ineffectual for the GOP in 1992 and 2006.
"Sen. Obama is measuring the drapes, and planning with Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi and Sen. (Harry) Reid to raise taxes, increase spending, take away your right to vote by secret ballot in labor elections, and concede defeat in Iraq," McCain said, targeting the prospect of one-party government with references to the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate.
In 1992, President George H.W. Bush told a Houston rally when he went to the Oval Office he expected to find Democratic candidate Bill Clinton "there measuring the drapes. Put those drapes on hold, it's going to be curtain time." Clinton unseated Bush.
In October 2006, President George W. Bush said congressional Democrats "were measuring the drapes" and planning to take control of Congress. A month later, Democrats won the House and Senate.
McCain acknowledged Obama's lead in the polls.
"The national media has written us off," McCain added. "But they forgot to let you decide."
He renewed his pledge to freeze federal spending, renegotiate distressed mortgages to help middle class homeowners, and cut taxes. He also vowed to bring more experienced leadership to the White House, because "the next president won't have time to get used to the office."
McCain compared Obama to Herbert Hoover, the Republican who was president when the stock market crashed in 1929 triggering the Depression.
"The last president to raise taxes and restrict trade in a bad economy as Sen. Obama proposes was Herbert Hoover. That didn't turn out too well," McCain said. "They say those who don't learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. Well, my friends, I know my history lessons, and I sure won't make the mistakes Sen. Obama will."
In fact, Obama's tax plan calls for reductions for Americans making less than $200,000 a year.
Introducing McCain to the Virginia crowd, Palin sought to temper the sometimes volatile outbursts from supporters against Obama that marked the ticket's rallies last week.
The Alaska governor never mentioned the Illinois senator by name or his connections to 1960s-era radical Bill Ayers, a reference she made repeatedly last week that incited the crowds.
When supporters started chanting "No-Bama, No-Bama," Palin jumped in to say voter anger was driven by economic woes.
"There's anger about the insider dealing of lobbyists. Anger about the greed on Wall Street. Anger about the arrogance of the Washington elite," she said.