STURGIS, S.D. - Thousands of motorcyclists greeted Republican presidential candidate John McCain with an approving roar Monday as he sought blue-collar and heartland support by visiting a giant motorcycle rally.
"As you may know, not long ago a couple hundred thousand Berliners made a lot of noise for my opponent. I'll take the roar of 50,000 Harleys any day," McCain said, referring to Democrat Barack Obama's recent visit to the German capital.
Billed as the largest event of its kind in the world, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has become something of an annual bikers' Woodstock during the past 70 years. It features nine nights of entertainment, with bands including Def Leppard, Lynyrd Skynyrd and REO Speedwagon.
McCain played to a crowd that paused for a veterans salute. He criticized Obama for supporting a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq while opposing efforts to reduce record-high energy prices.
"My opponent wants to set a date to come home. I want us to come home with victory and honor so we will never go back again," the Arizona senator said.
McCain also criticized Congress for adjourning for a five-week recess without approving a new energy plan.
"Tell em' to come back and get to work," McCain said, yelling into the microphone. "When I'm president of the United States, I'm not going to let them go on vacation. They're gonna become energy independent."
McCain was accompanied by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who has been mentioned as a potential running mate. He had warned the McCain campaign that a politician might receive an unfriendly welcome, but McCain relished the warm embrace.
His wife, Cindy, also paid tribute to the crowd, saying: "I'd like to thank all of you for your support of our troops, and here's why: I'm many things in my life, and one thing I'd like to be is your first lady. But more importantly, I'm Jack McCain's mother and Jimmy McCain's mother, one in the U.S. Navy and another one in the Marine Corps, an Iraqi vet."
Taking back the microphone, McCain joked that he wanted her to enter the beauty contest held at the site, the Buffalo Chip campground on the edge of town.
"I told her with a little luck, she could be the only woman ever to serve as both the first lady and Miss Buffalo Chip," McCain quipped.
Before landing in South Dakota, McCain visited the National Label Co. in Lafayette Hill, Pa. The 97-year-old, family owned business makes labels for products from medicines such as Tylenol to shampoos in the Suave family.
There, McCain focused on energy policy, telling reporters he has outlined an "all-of-the-above" strategy and mocking Obama's suggestion last week for improving automobile mileage, saying: "We're not going to achieve energy independence by inflating our tires."
On Tuesday, McCain aims to underscore his call for expanded nuclear power in the U.S. by touring a nuclear power plant in the battleground state of Michigan. That trip comes a day after Obama laid out his energy vision in a speech, also in Michigan.
By Glen Johnson, Associated Press