CEDARBURG, Wis. - John McCain said Friday the sagging economy has brought "tough times all over America" as he made a splashy debut with Sarah Palin in critical Midwestern states as the newly crowned Republican presidential ticket.
A crowd of thousands cheered the Arizona senator and Alaska governor as they presented themselves as a team of reformers eager to challenge Washington's political establishment.
"John McCain doesn't run with the Washington herd," said Palin, the 44-year-old Alaska governor and surprise pick as McCain's running mate.
"It's over. It's over. It's over for the special interests," McCain promised. "We're going to start working for the people of this country."
Twelve hours after leaving the Republican convention in Minnesota, McCain and Palin were cheered and applauded by a throng of thousands that wound down several streets of Cedarburg, a traditional Republican enclave within Democratic-leaning Wisconsin.
McCain's campaign put out an ambitious estimate of 12,400 people at the rally. Cedarburg's population is about 11,000.
"Isn't this the most marvelous running mate in the history of this nation?" McCain said of Palin, who introduced him as "the only great man in this race, the only man in this election ready to serve as our 44th president."
Two months before the election, small towns are a key target for McCain as he tries to lure independent and blue-collar voters essential for him to win.
Many people in the audience held digital cameras and video cameras above their heads to get a shot as McCain's "Straight Talk Express" bus rolled into town. Palin said it was their intention to bring their campaign directly from the convention to "small-town America" like the small town in Alaska where she once was mayor.
The Republican team plans to campaign together in hotly contested states — Wisconsin and Michigan on Friday, Colorado and New Mexico on Saturday — and then go their separate ways. Palin is expected to return to Alaska just briefly and then go back to the campaign trail, perhaps on Monday.
"Change is coming, change is coming," McCain promised the audience, borrowing the same theme that Democrat Barack Obama has made the centerpiece of his run for the White House.
McCain's campaign as a political outsider and rebel is complicated by the fact that he has served in the Senate for 22 years and solidly endorsed key elements of President Bush's record, most notably the war in Iraq and hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts. McCain originally opposed the tax cuts but changed his mind as he sought the GOP presidential nomination.
McCain took note of gloomy economic news from Washington: The government reported that the nation's unemployment rate soared to a five-year high of 6.1 percent in August as employers slashed 84,000 jobs.
"My friends, a little straight talk, a little straight talk," McCain said. "These are tough times. Today the jobs report is another reminder these are tough times. They're tough times in Wisconsin, they're tough times in Ohio, tough times all over America." He did not say how he would fix the economy.
After their speeches, Palin and McCain ducked into The Chocolate Factory to greet customers and sign autographs. After Palin met a few people, she turned to the ice cream counter and said: "I've got to get the moose tracks, please. Moose tracks, you know, near and dear to my heart. I can't go wrong with it." She was handed a waffle cone with a giant scoop.
Then McCain and his wife came up to order. The senator asked for a recommendation and then decided on watermelon sorbet. Cindy McCain ordered a brownie.
The woman behind the cash register, Becky Luft, 20, was flush with excitement and her friend described her as McCain's No. 1 fan. McCain came around the counter to pose for a picture with her.
People in the restaurant congratulated Palin on her nomination, many saying they liked her speech.
"I am very impressed with you," said Doreen Wirth, a Republican and artist from Cedarburg.
McCain and Palin headed to Michigan for an evening rally. After touching down, they stopped in Detroit to collect the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police, which has 328,000 members nationwide.
Chuck Canterbury, the union's national president, said McCain is a leader "who understands the words 'in the line of duty' and who knows all too well what it means to put your life on the line."
In brief remarks, McCain noted that Palin's husband is a member of the United Steel Workers union, and told the officers that they "are at the front lines of our cites and towns — you know the challenges we face."
Associated Press writer Sara Kugler contributed to this report.
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