Even if polls show California is not “in play,” Sarah Palin spoke before a crowd of some 8,000 enthusiastic supporters at a tennis arena in Carson on Saturday as if it were.

The doggone-its and bless her hearts and shout outs were absent, but what was on display was what a running mate usually is: the attack dog.

She talked about energy and the war in Iraq and the economy, but there was little doubt what would get the most attention — her comment, also said at a rally earlier in the day in Colorado — that Barack Obama was “pal around with terrorists.” She was citing an article in the New York Times, to which most of her audience booed at the mere mention, until she explained that she had read an article about Obama’s connections to 60s radical William Ayers, who she called a domestic terrorist.

“Our opponents see America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who would bomb their own country,” she said.

In fact, the New York Times story concluded that the men were never close and that Obama had denounced Ayers’s past.

But the point was to hit Obama as something short of a true American. In a striking pastel green dress, she said, “This is not a man who sees America the way you and I see America.”

Obama has a wide lead in California, although I’ve been told that McCain’s internals had them much closer a few weeks ago. Much has changed since then, obviously.

So why go through the effort? First of all, it is impressive that Palin is able to draw such a crowd. It is unusual for a candidate on a Republican ticket to be spending time here so close to the general election.

She had combined the appearance with fund-raising, so it does make some sense.

Although the event was listed on my credential as “Orange County, Calif.,” it actually was in Carson, which is very much in Los Angeles County. In fact, it is not even close. But many of the tickets were handed out in Orange County, and most of the people I talked to made the trip from place south.