ESTERO, Fla. — Where else would you send the nation's most famous hockey mom to kneecap a Democratic rival, but a jam-packed ice rink in the Republican stronghold of Southwest Florida?
In a two-day tour aimed at stalling Democratic nominee Barack Obama's momentum in a pivotal state, Republican vice presidential contender Sarah Palin stepped up her attacks by portraying him as a left-wing zealot who got his start in politics with the help of a violent Vietnam War protester.
''Wait a minute, he didn't know that he had launched his political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist?'' Palin asked, referring to the Obama campaign's claim that he did not know of William Ayers' radical activities when he was a state senate candidate in 1995.
Addressing a raucous crowd of about 8,000 people, Palin added: "This is about the truthfulness and judgment needed in our next president.''
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While assailing Palin for exaggerating the relationship, the Obama campaign struck back by launching a website tying McCain to Charles Keating, a banker at the center of the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s.
''The McCain campaign has tried to avoid talking about the scandal, but with so many parallels to the current crisis, McCain's Keating history is relevant and voters deserve to know the facts — and see for themselves the pattern of poor judgment by John McCain,'' wrote Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, in an e-mail to supporters.
Palin's visit comes at a critical time for the McCain campaign in a state it can't afford to lose. Last week, five polls showed Obama ahead by three to eight points, while two other Florida surveys showed a tie race.
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