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Todd Palin campaigns for McCain in Bemidji

Carmen Prince of Bemidji gets a T-shirt autographed by Todd Palin at a McCain/Palin rally Thursday night at the Bemidji Woolen Mills factory, which drew more than 400 people. In the center is Heartland Christian Academy Superintendent Robert Roach, who gave Palin for his family HCA T-shirts. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

BEMIDJI, Minn. - Wasilla, Alaska, and Bemidji share the same values as well as the same environment of rich natural resources, says the husband of Republican vice presidential nominee Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

"Our family enjoys all the qualities that your families down here enjoy as far as the environment and protecting the environment, recreational, hunting, sport fishing," Todd Palin said Thursday night at a rally held in Bemidji Woolen Mills' industrial park production facility.

"That's a big part of our lives," said Palin, an oil production manager for BP and championship snowmobile racer. "That's our foundation ... we share the same foundation."

Palin is in northern Minnesota for a two-day stump for presidential nominee John McCain, who picked Gov. Palin as his running mate only days before the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

More than 400 people crammed into the Woolen Mills plant, standing around rows of sewing machines and long production tables. At the front, Palin spoke for about three minutes, standing between Polaris and Arctic Cat snow machines. He stayed for another 45 minutes to shake hands and sign autographs.

Palin told the Bemidji crowd that if they were following news of campaign or watched the debate between Gov. Palin and Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, "you probably got a good sense of the way Sarah manages and the way she governs and her ideas of what government's role is."

That role, Palin said of his wife, "is to reduce taxing, reduce spending and reduce the pork-barrel projects. And get government back closer to the people."

That drew loud cheers among the crowd, many of them given "McCain-Palin" signs to wave prior to the event start.

About the Palin family's newfound public attention, Todd Palin said that "I guess I should have asked a few more questions when she (Sarah) decided to join the PTA."

Gov. Palin started her public service as a PTA member in Wasilla and rose to become mayor of Wasilla and then to the governor's mansion.

Sen. McCain, he said, "has a record of a reform attitude and is proud to stand on that record." The goal, he said, "is to put government back into the people's hands."

Palin said he had "a strong connection to Minnesota," introducing his racing team partner, Scott Davis, who was born in Grand Rapids with his family now living in Deer River. The two were at events Thursday in Hermantown, Grand Rapids and Bemidji, and will hit Thief River Falls and Moorhead today.

In an interview, Todd Palin said the Second Amendment right to bear arms is an important value statement fr the McCain ticket. Most of the events are being held at sports goods stores, and many supporters Thursday showed up in blaze orange.

Bill Batchelder, an owner of Bemidji Woolen Mills, was decked out in khaki and blaze orange, complete with a blaze orange cap that Palin wore while Batchelder's nephew, Danny, presented him with a Bemidji Woolen Mills wool coat.

"You just have to look at the records" on gun issues, said Palin of contracting McCain's votes versus that of Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee. "I think the records will show who is supportive of the Second Amendment rights and he's (Obama) not."

Palin said his wife, who has hunted moose, "is pro-Second Amendment rights and pro-gun rights."

Asked how he's handling the public attention, Palin said that "vacation's coming around the corner, but it's an honor for me to travel the country and meet Americans. So, it's nothing but a positive."

Batchelder also presented Palin with some "hockey mom mitts" for his wife.

Robert Roach, superintendent of Heartland Christian Academy, gave Palin T-shirts for his family, including the expected new arrival to daughter Bristol.

"We believe in parents having a choice of where their kids go to school, whether it's public school, home school or Christian school," Roach said. "Parents deserve the choice, to make that for their children."

Palin noted that McCain made that same point during Wednesday night's debate with Obama.

He was also given Paul Bunyan and Babe bobble heads from Gayle Quistgaard, director of VisitBemidji.

Mark Dickinson, grandson of Leonard Dickinson, state legislator in the 1950s and '60s, introduced Palin, saying the McCain ticket "believes in the principles of less government and individual principles so important to northern Minnesota."

As the Palins have come under scrutiny with Bristol being pregnant and unwed, and with an investigation into the Palins' involvement in trying to get an Alaskan state trooper -- an in-law in the family -- fired, Dickinson thanked them for their self-sacrifice.

He thanked "Todd and Sarah for their decision to open that window for all of us with a hope we can make a difference in the direction of our country. That isd a great sacrifice, and we thank you both for that."

About a dozen protesters spent their time across the street from the Woolen Mills plant, holding signs and beating a drum. Mostly local people, they politely thanked people for coming and wished them a safe trip home after the event.

Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp reported no incidents. Security was tight, with a contingent of Secret Service traveling with Palin.