Chilly Monday morning temperatures didn't stop hundreds of Irish American supporters of Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain from lining up outside the Scranton Cultural Center in Scranton, Pennsylvania at 6 a.m. to catch a glimpse of their favorite nominee.
While McCain volunteers ushered eager Republican supporters to their seats, the Irish Voice spoke with many Irish Americans, some first generation and others whose family history goes back generations.
Rose Conlon, whose Irish roots lie in counties Westmeath and Kerry, told the Irish Voice that she has been a supporter of McCain for years.
Conlon, one of the first members of a predominately white Catholic audience at the event to take her seat, said she strongly agrees with McCain's various policies and ethics, but most of all she thinks his decision to choose Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate in this election as "very necessary."
Conlon, who rose at 5 a.m. to make sure she got one of the 1,600 seats, said of Palin, "She really has everything, a nice family, a great personality. She is smart and she brings a lot of life to the campaign."
When Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Joe Biden ran for his party's nomination for president, first in 1988, and again in 2008, Conlon said, "Being honest, I never even noticed him." Biden didn't leave a lasting impression with Conlon, and "therefore not the right man to be second in command," she feels.
Catherine Donnegan, whose family originates in Co. Limerick, said she is a firm McCain supporter. When asked her opinion on Biden, who was born in Scranton, she simply said, "I don't believe what Biden stands for."
On why McCain would make the best president for the U.S., Donnegan, sporting an Irish for McCain green sticker on her red shirt, said, "His policy on first comes country."
While taking about Palin, Donnegan's face lit up with a smile."I love her. I really think she is a new generation to the party. She brings a lot of life and I'm proud to have her as a woman standing up for women."
Donnegan said she doesn't agree with McCain's stance on everything. "The immigration part I have an issue with. As a first generation in this country, my mother came over here through all the channels. I don't see why anybody else should be allowed come into this country and live off of what we have worked for all of our lives," she said.
"I really feel when you come to this country you have to integrate in the country and not be looking to use the system to benefit yourself."
Carole Nasser, whose mother was a Doherty, and her husband Michael took their seats in the old Masonic Temple that's now known as the Scranton Cultural Center about an hour before McCain came on stage.
They told the Irish Voice that McCain was their choice for president because he has the most experience of the two candidates, and a lot more common sense.
Michael said he feels Palin will do a superb job as vice president. Comparing her to Biden, he said, "Biden has never had any management experience at all. He has been in the Senate for many years but he has never really administered anything in his life. At least Sarah Palin has."
Carole also disagrees with McCain's views on legalizing the undocumented, but Michael, a war veteran, said he has no issues with McCain.
Marilynn McBride, who hails from Mount Cobb in Pennsylvania, is particularly fond of McCain for his "conservative values like pro-family and lower taxes." She feels he is the best candidate to represent middle class people.
Jerome and Marylou Foley, who live just outside Scranton, were excited to see McCain in person. "We've seen him on the television so we came here today to hear him speak in person on various topics," said Jerome.
Marylou said that Biden is gone from Scranton too long to make an impact on voters there."I'm all for women on a national ticket," she smiles.
The Foleys were hoping the Republican candidate would touch a bit on taxes and the economy in his speech. "He rarely talks about the economy," said Marylou.
Although McCain will be getting the Foley vote in November, Marylou said she doesn't agree with his anti-abortion policy.
Jerry Donahue, chairman of the Scranton Cultural Center, said it was an honor having McCain speak at the center. "We're happy to host Senator McCain here today," he said.
A few months back, during the primary elections, Senator Hillary Clinton also spoke at the center.
Donahue, whose family originates from the south of Ireland and whose two children attended the University of Galway, said McCain's visit to Scranton was very apt. "Scranton has a great Irish heritage, the third largest in the United States in fact, and we do celebrate it very much here," he said.
On Palin, Donahue said he feels she is the best choice. "Since I have two daughters I think it's about time we have more women in government," he feels.
Donohue, who knows Biden personally, said because he isn't the head of the Democratic ticket, his vote will go to McCain.
Opening up Monday morning's forum, which was hosted by radio broadcaster and Mayo man Adrian Flannelly, was vice chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) Ciaran Staunton, who spoke at length about the issue of immigration and how it currently affects Irish communities across the U.S.
"Congress passed a law in 1965 to say that no Irish people can legally immigrate to the United States. Is that fair?" asked Staunton.
"No," was the response from a fired up audience.
Thanking, but not endorsing McCain (the ILIR cannot endorse any political candidate), Staunton said, "Irish America wants to thank Senator John McCain for all he has done for the Irish in the past," adding it's only McCain that has so far accepted an invitation to address the Irish Presidential Forum.
"The Irish will remember in November," Staunton said.
"They sure will," shouted a member of the audience.After appealing to his audience's softer side, Staunton concluded with some food for thought.
"The roads that the Irish immigrants built 100 years ago are the same roads that Irish can't drive on today," he said. This statement generated boos from the audience.
June McCumiskey, whose father hailed from Louth, said that although she didn't entirely agree with McCain's "going into bed" with the opposition on an immigration bill, she explained that she was "really surprised" to hear that there are many Irish who are illegal.
"I just never thought of Irish as being illegal," she said, while adding that her father came to the U.S. with no problem 70 years ago. "If he was alive today, he would be very upset to hear that," she said, enlightened.
"That man from New York was right," she said, referring to Staunton's speech on immigration. "He said that in today's world, the Kennedys wouldn't have been able to come here from Ireland."
Other speakers to address the full hall in Scranton were national co-chairs of the Irish American Republicans, Grant Lally and Jeff Cleary, Ancient Order of Hibernians President Seamus Boyle and Chris Callaghan, former Saratoga County treasurer.
Also in attendance was Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, who spoke briefly on why McCain is the better choice as president.
"Obama is an able fella but he doesn't have John McCain's experience, knowledge of defense policy. He doesn't have the knowledge of the economy and he doesn't grasp John McCain's understanding of foreign policy," said Specter, who worked closely with McCain on the Kennedy/McCain immigration reform bill to try and get it passed.
While waiting for McCain to arrive, the masses began chanting "Mac, Mac."
While this was happening, Senator Joe Lieberman from Connecticut slipped onto the stage and took a seat next to Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
After McCain's 15 minutes on stage, James O'Hora, a member of the Stanford Ancient Order of Hibernians who traveled down from Canaan, Connecticut on Monday to hear McCain speak, said he felt the senator "hit on all the right issues."
O'Hora, describing McCain a