SEARCHLIGHT, Nev. — Sarah Palin told thousands of tea party activists assembled in the Nevada desert Saturday that Sen. Harry Reid will have to explain his votes when he comes back to his hometown to campaign.

Holding a microphone and her notes and speaking to a cheering crowd, the former Alaska governor told them that Reid, fighting for re-election, is “gambling away our future.”

“Someone needs to tell him, this is not a crapshoot,” she said.

About 7,000 people streamed into tiny Searchlight, a former mining town 60 miles south of Las Vegas, bringing U.S. flags, “Don’t Tread on Me” signs and outspoken anger toward Reid, President Obama, a Democrat, and the health care overhaul.

Palin told them the big-government, big-debt spending spree of the Senate majority leader, Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is over.

“You’re fired!” Palin said.

A string of polls has shown Reid is vulnerable in politically moderate Nevada after pushing Obama’s agenda in Congress. His standing has also been hurt by Nevada’s double-digit unemployment and record foreclosure and bankruptcy rates.

Reid responded with sarcasm to the crowd gathered in the hardscrabble town of about 1,000 where he was born and raised.

“I’m happy so many people came to see my hometown of Searchlight and spend their out-of-state money, especially in these tough economic times,” he said Saturday in a statement. “This election will be decided by Nevadans, not people from other states who parachuted in for one day to have a tea party.”

Traffic on a highway leading into the town was backed up more than two miles Saturday as people gathered for the rally, which kicks off a 42-city bus tour by the political action group Tea Party Express, ending in Washington on April 15, tax day.

The rally took place just days after the historic vote that ushered in near-universal medical coverage. The vote was followed by reports of threats and vandalism aimed at some Washington lawmakers, mostly Democrats who backed the new law.

Conservative columnist Andrew Breitbart disputed accounts that tea party activists in Washington shouted racial epithets at black lawmakers amid the health care debate, although he didn’t provide any evidence.

“I know you’re not a racist group,” he told the crowd.

Palin, the 2008 GOP vice-presidential nominee, appeared after spending Friday and Saturday morning stumping for Sen. John McCain, who led the 2008 ticket.

Now a Fox News analyst, Palin faced criticism after posting a map on her Facebook page that had circles and cross hairs over 20 Democratic districts. She also sent a tweet saying, “Don’t Retreat, Instead — RELOAD!”

She said Saturday she wasn’t inciting violence, just trying to inspire people to get involved.

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department sent officers to patrol the crowd, but aside from a report of a fistfight that officers didn’t see, the event appeared peaceful. Officer Jay Rivera said there had been no arrests.