"People started queuing before 7am for a front row spot at John McCain's campaign rally in Lebanon, Ohio, this week.
By the time the senator appeared with Sarah Palin, his running mate, three hours later, more than 5,000 people had crammed into the town centre, with hundreds more locked outside the security cordon.
Similar scenes have greeted the Republican presidential ticket at events across the country this week, marking the first time that Mr McCain has rivalled Barack Obama for pulling power.
Scanning the crowd in Lebanon, a commuter town of 17,000 people outside Cincinnati, the catalyst for surging Republican enthusiasm was obvious.
Home-made placards emblazoned with slogans such as "Working Moms for Palin" outnumbered those referring to Mr McCain, and chants of "Sarah, Sarah" filled the air.
"I was always going to vote McCain, but I wasn't looking forward to it," said Dixie Bruggeman, a retired car plant worker, wearing a Stars and Stripes blouse. "When I heard about Sarah Palin, I got excited about the election for the first time and wrote a $100 cheque to the GOP [Republican party]."
Almost every Republican questioned gave a similar account of the electrifying effect that Mr McCain's choice for vice-president had on their attitude to November's poll.
It was conservative strongholds such as Lebanon that helped deliver George W. Bush the wafer-thin victory in Ohio that kept him in the White House four years ago. The state looks set to play a pivotal role again this year and Mr McCain is relying on those same rural and suburban districts to offset Mr Obama's strength in urban and industrialised areas.
A few months ago, Lebanon and surrounding Warren County were popular destinations for reporters researching stories about how Mr McCain was struggling to rally a demoralised and fractured conservative base. But Mary Jo Kubicki, a volunteer at the Republican party headquarters in Lebanon, says that story has now reversed. "The phone hasn't stopped ringing since Palin was picked," she says. "We've had a rush of volunteers and we're out of McCain yard signs."
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WOW 7am for a front row spot the campaign rally started at 10am
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Palin's appeal extends beyond party's base
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