Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin stoked thousands of supporters Wednesday night in Rosemont, attacking President Barack Obama and telling the crowd "the eyes of America are on this state."
But Palin walked around the particulars of Illinois politics and dove right into a ripe controversy pitting a suburban high school against an immigration law that has drawn fire in Arizona.
Palin encouraged the Highland Park High School girls basketball team to "go rogue" after administrators canceled an Arizona tournament citing safety concerns and the state's new immigration law, which makes it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant, allows police officers to demand documentation and gives citizens the power to sue authorities for not enforcing the law.
District 113 Assistant Superintendent Suzan Hebson reportedly said the trip "would not be aligned with our beliefs and values." The decision has riled some parents.
"Those are fighting words," Palin said to roars from the more than 4,000 attendees at the Rosemont Theatre. "They deserve to go."
Palin made mention of passing "the hat" to help the players go, but it was not clear how, if at all, she would get involved. Several conservative talk show pundits have seized on the story.
"We are going to see what we can do about that," she said to cheers.
Palin said the students should go "even if they kind of have to do this on their own - if the kids have to 'Go Rogue' girls." Palin's best selling book is "Going Rogue."
On local politics, Palin didn't mentioned any Illinois Republican running for office by name, though she came to the AM 560 WIND event straight from a $500-a-seat state party fundraiser down the street.
Palin did encourage attendees to find a Republican they can believe in and stick with.
"You don't have to compromise your principles to get things done," the former vice presidential candidate said.
She made clear the chief goal should be to unseat Democrats.
"We want to elect principled Republicans. ... The key word being 'elect,'" she said, also adding, "It is about taking the gavel away from Harry and Nancy."
For the sold-out audience of political watchers, the message was geared toward the upcoming general election and the continuous internal party debate of whether local Republican candidates are true to conservative ideals.
U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk of Highland Park, who is heading the party's ticket in his Senate bid, has taken considerable heat from conservative Republicans for his vote in support of Obama's cap-and-trade legislation. Kirk now says he will vote against it if elected.
Kirk also supports gun control and legalized abortion.
When Palin brought up Republicans who don't completely adhere to party principles, some in the audience shouted out Kirk's name. Palin laughed, but didn't talk about Kirk.
By and large, Palin focused on national politics, portraying Obama's economic and international policies as a socialist-like "transformation" of the country that is now further in danger of terrorist attacks.
"It seems like we are violating much of the spirit ... of that Constitution," she said of Obama's policies. "We are seeing an erosion of free market principles.
"I so fear at some point our young people in this country are going to say, 'Why should I work? ... Government will pay all my bills," she said. "We should expect every able-bodied American to be out there working. ... We need self-reliance."
Palin told the people in the audience their enthusiasm is critical to kicking the Democrats out of office and reversing the trend.
"Illinois is going to be key in getting this turned around," she said.
And their enthusiasm was considerable. The hourlong presentation was flooded with rousing cheers and jeers.
"She represents American ideals to me," said Elk Grove resident and attendee Terry Durkee before the show. "I love America. I'm sorry to see the ideals ... trampled on."
• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.