CYPRESS, Texas (AP) — Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin stumped for Gov. Rick Perry at a rally Sunday in suburban Houston, adding some national Republican star power to Perry's re-election campaign.
"I doubt there is another public figure in our country who gives liberals a bigger case of the hives than our special guest today," Perry said. "At the very mention of her name, the liberals, the progressives, the media elites, they literally foam at the mouth."
Palin appeared with Perry a day after the GOP's most recent vice presidential nominee addressed the first national convention of the anti-establishment "tea party" coalition in Nashville, Tenn.
Perry is firmly establishment in Texas but has campaigned as anti-Washington in his March 2 GOP primary race against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. He is seeking a third four-year term that would add to his tenure as the longest-serving governor in Texas history.
Palin said Texas and Alaska had some "really sweet connections, ... independent pioneer-spirited people and big wide open spaces."
"A lot of us in our states proudly cling to our guns and religion," she told a cheering crowd.
She also said Alaskans and Texans "pretty much want the same things —a good job in our hometown, safety and security for our loved ones and we just want a small and smarter government that'll kind of get out of our way."
"And no one understands that better than my good friend Rick Perry."
An 8,500-seat arena northwest of Houston in Cypress was filled to about three-fourths capacity. Country-western music played over speakers as people who had been passed over with metal detectors at entrances slowly filed in. Some had waited outside for hours before the doors opened. Aging rocker Ted Nugent, wearing a camo-decorated cowboy hat, performed an earsplitting guitar-riffed version of the national anthem.
The arena was decked out with red, white and blue posters and a giant Texas flag as a backdrop over the stage. Campaign staffers distributed hundreds of handmade signs extolling Perry.
Nevertheless Palin clearly was the star in the eyes of many and she had the final speaker's spot on the program. Cameras flashed by the hundreds as she entered the arena with Perry to a huge ovation.
"Oh, is it a Super Sunday or what?" Perry shouted. "They say there's a ball game somewhere today but the real action is right here in Texas."
He told the crowd 10 years from now they wouldn't remember who won the Super Bowl "but you'll never forget the time you got see one of America's superstar conservative leaders."
"We drove for her, not Rick Perry," said Jan Heard, 50, a registered nurse who drove with a friend some 200 miles from San Antonio to see Palin. "I want to hear her say she's running in 2012."
Pat Shirling, 61, a retired Houston man, said he supported Perry and Palin because they wanted to "stop people in Washington from spending all that money."
"Maybe she'll take the lead and show Obama how to run things," he said.
Hutchison, asked about the Palin appearance, pointed to her own support from the likes of former Vice President Dick Cheney and former President George H.W. Bush, who she said would be campaigning for her.
"I'm just running my campaign, and I'm very proud of my endorsements," she said.
Her campaign released a statement Sunday that said "despite today's theatrics, there's no covering up Rick Perry's decade long record of cronyism in office that brought us the Trans-Texas Corridor and HPV mandate."
"When she ran, Sarah Palin took on an incumbent Republican governor and his cronyism," Hutchison spokesman Joe Pounder said. "Today, Kay Bailey Hutchison is doing the same and will clean up Austin, strengthen education and improve transportation."
Perry said Palin "literally inspires millions of people with her values, her spunk," and presented her with a framed certificate making her an honorary Texan.
"The stakes are so high in America today," said Palin, who brought her youngest daughter, Piper, to the event. "I look forward to Texas sending Washington a message because you're doing it right in Texas.
"This election will send an important message how Washington can solve the problems: the Texas way or the Washington way... Washington is broken but your state, under Rick Perry, is setting an example that a lot of others want to follow."