FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Sarah Palin was back in Alaska Thursday to see her son off to war.
A homecoming rally late Wednesday marked the first time the governor had been in the state since Republican presidential hopeful John McCain asked her to be his running mate on August 28.
And there was no hiding her joy at being back after the madness of the past two weeks in which the little-known governor and self-proclaimed "hockey mom" was transformed into a political rock star.
Palin's laughter filled the cabin as the freshly painted McCain-Palin campaign plane pulled up to an airport hanger in Fairbanks where hundreds of supporters were waiting to welcome her home.
She stepped down the stairs in her now trademark red heels and reached out to kiss her daughter Piper's head before walking onto a plywood platform to a hastily constructed stage.
"Thank you so much for this warm welcome," Palin told the crowd.
"It's going to be awesome to spend a couple of days here. Just getting back in touch with all of you and the great land we call Alaska that God has so richly blessed."
Palin, who was set to speak at her son Track's deployment ceremony Thursday afternoon, told the crowd how much she respected McCain's service to his country and his commitment to reforming Washington.
"I can't wait for you to meet John McCain. He's awesome!"
Palin tried to deliver the stump speech that rolled off her tongue earlier that day in Virginia but kept interrupting herself with references to home.
In the middle of a line about her accomplishments as governor, she turned to staff members standing behind her on stage and said "I can't wait to give you guys a hug and thank you for holding down the fort and carrying the water."
She told of how excited people in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and Missouri were to hear about a new natural gas pipeline which will eventually link Alaska to the lower 48 states.
"Everywhere we go they are chanting drill, baby, drill," Palin said.
"People all over the country, they're hearing about it and they're saying, thank you Alaska for allowing safe, responsibility development of your resources to help secure our state, provide jobs here, but also for the betterment of our entire nation," Palin told the cheering crowd.
"Our state will have brought Americans one step closer to energy independence. That's one step closer to an America free from foreign suppliers that do not have our interests at heart."
Then she interrupted herself again, saying "I feel like I'm preaching to the choir because you guys already know this."
Palin even got self-conscious about her story of selling the state's luxury jet, saying she hoped she wasn't being hypocritical since she'd just flown in on a private plane filled with her husband, who she called "Alaska's first dude" a smattering of new staff members and a host of reporters and secret services agents.
Palin, one of the most popular governors in the nation, is beloved by Alaskans for being so down-to-earth.
"She's a common person. She's part of us — middle America," said Allyn Yanish, 46, who brought his daughters to the rally to see first-hand what strong women could achieve.
Nancy Irey, 67, told AFP she has "loved Sarah for years."
"At my age I finally found someone I can relate to and I feel she is honest and trustworthy," Irey said. "She will do a marvelous job as vice president and should she every be president she will be marvelous there too."
Palin will fly to Carson City, Nevada to rejoin McCain on the campaign trail ahead of the November 4 election.
Copyright 2008 AFP