An enthusiastic crowd swarmed to shake hands and pose for photos with Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin at the Irish Pub last night in Center City, a short time before the first debate of the presidential election.

"Sa-rah! Sa-rah!" the crowd cheered, although outside, a large contingent of protesters booed Palin and chanted Democrat Barack Obama's name.

Wearing a Phillies windbreaker and blue jeans, Palin spent about an hour in the bar mingling. She was expected to return to her hotel to watch the debate.

Well-wishers reached out with cell-phone cameras to try to capture a glimpse of the candidate. Others got autographs. Some wore blue USA Hockey jerseys with the initials "VP" on their shoulders.

"I thank you for being on the team, and hopefully, we can bring more people from this area on the team," Palin told the cheering audience. Her remarks lasted about a minute: "John McCain and I will never forget who we are working for - you. It's for you, so we love you guys, City of Brotherly Love!"

The McCain campaign said it had given out 450 tickets to the event, but it appeared that a far larger audience had crammed into several rooms in the multilevel bar.

Palin's fans were full of references to her Alaskan roots, with some touching on ice hockey and others pointing to her professed hunting skills.

"I told her to field-dress the damn donkey," said Joe McColgan of Philadelphia.

Victoria White, a 15-year-old youth hockey player from Devon, told Palin she played hockey – at center – and got the candidate's autograph.

"She told me to skate hard," said White, wearing a Notre Dame hockey sweatshirt.

Her father, Jim White, wore a McCain-Palin button.

"She's brought a wonderful vitality to this election," he said. "It's great to see the appeal she has to young folks."

Reba Larney, of Exton, said that having a man and woman in the White House together would bring better balance to the nation's leadership. "There are some women who are called to stand beside men in power and offer a balance," she said.

Not all of the crowd inside was so enthusiastic, though, and a few hundred Democratic supporters protested outside.

Inside the bar, James Boney, of Atlantic City, said he had been a McCain supporter but would not vote for him now because of the Palin pick.

"I have a problem with anyone who thinks the Earth is 6,000 years old," Boney said, referring to Palin's onetime support for the teaching of creationism along with evolution in public schools.

He said he came to the event "for a good photo op."

Outside, Steve Richter, of Philadelphia, stood with two signs. One read: "McSame and Palin. Out of Touch and Out of Her League."

Some drivers honked in support of the protesters, and walkers took pictures, while others shouted derision from their cars. Some simply cursed as traffic on Walnut Street backed up for two blocks.