GOP Energized, McCain Enters Home Stretch

Sen. John McCain and his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, hit the campaign trail on Friday, hoping to build on the enthusiasm at the Republican convention.

A record 39 million people watched McCain's nomination speech. That's more than tuned in for Sen. Barack Obama a week ago.

As they enter the home stretch, McCain is stressing his credentials as a reformer, promising, with Palin's help, to shake things up in Washington.

Their first stop was the small town of Cedarburg, Wis. With a population of 11,000, the town is only slightly bigger than Wasilla, Alaska, where Palin served as mayor.

"Isn't this the most marvelous running mate in the history of the nation?" McCain asked the crowd.

The crowd whooped its approval.

Over the next eight weeks, the McCain campaign will stress the idea that the McCain-Palin ticket combines a maverick and a kindred spirit.

"I can't wait to introduce her to Washington, D.C., and the pork barrelers and the lobbyists and all the special interests whose day is done, my friends," McCain said.

Palin has been warming to her role as the campaign "pit bull." She attacked Obama for his comments to Bill O'Reilly last night that the surge of U.S. troops in Iraq "succeeded beyond our wildest dreams."

Said Palin: "I guess when you turn out to be profoundly wrong on a vital national security issue, maybe it's comforting to pretend that everyone was wrong, too. But I remember it a little differently.

"It seems to me there was one leader in Washington who did predict success, who refused to call retreat, and risked his own career for the sake of the surge and victory in Iraq, and ladies and gentlemen, that man is standing right next to me -- Sen. John McCain," she said

Aside from talking broadly as a populist reformer, McCain largely skipped over economic issues, which will likely take center stage in the coming weeks.

McCain only briefly mentioned the report issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday, which pointed to 84,000 jobs lost in August.

"Today, the jobs report is another reminder. These are tough times," McCain said. "They're tough times in Wisconsin, they're tough times in Ohio, they're tough times all over America."

McCain promises smaller government not beholden to special interests. "All you ever asked of government is to stand on your side and not in your way, and that's what I intend to do, stand on your side and fight for your future," he said.

Asked to describe the campaign strategy for the home stretch, McCain's closest advisor Mark Salter said simply, "to win as many states as possible."

Salter identified Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota and New Hampshire -- not just traditional "red states" -- as crucial battlegrounds the campaign hopes to win.

ABC News consultant Matthew Dowd, chief strategist for President Bush's 2004 campaign, said McCain can't afford to lose many so-called red states.

"He could lose one or two small states and still win, but he's basically got to keep that coalition together," Dowd said. "He's got to win Florida, he probably has to win Ohio, and then not lose too many other states to Barack Obama."

As of Friday, McCain has $85 million in federal funds at his disposal, plus additional funds raised by his party.

Campaign officials told ABC News they have raised more than $10 million since Palin was named the vice presidential pick, raising the month's total to more than $47 million.

"His $85 million is going to go into swing states. But the question is, What does he define as swing states?" said Bruce Cain, the director of UC Berkeley's Washington Center.

The campaign hopes that Palin's appeal will help energize conservatives and women -– two core constituencies in this election.

"I came to see Sara. She is so down-to-earth," one revved-up woman said. "She turned me. I was a Barack Obama fan. But when I listened to her, I thought, this women needs to be heard."

Voters are paying close attention: 37.2 million viewers tuned in to watch Palin accept the Republican nomination for vice president; 13.2 million fewer watched as Joe Biden accepted the Democratic vice presidential nomination, according to a Nielsen report.

The McCain campaign will attempt to seize this momentum to capture a margin of victory in the weeks ahead.