From Erika Bolstad in Washington D.C. --
I drove up from Washington D.C. to Pennsylvania on Tuesday to see Gov. Sarah Palin campaign at a rally at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, and thought I'd offer a few observations that didn't make it in the story.
First of all, Republican women don't just like Palin, they love her. Some samples:
"I love Sarah Palin," said Annelise Vidal, 35.
"I love her," said Monica Forte, 38.
"She is awesome, I love her," said Pattie Mahoney, 45.
"I saw her, I loved her," said Leah Herrold, 35.
During the 2004 campaign, I covered a rally for Vice President Dick Cheney in West Palm Beach, Fla., and believe me, the word "love" was not uttered in connection with him. (Although his speech was actually kind of funny. Palin's? A retread of her now-boilerplate convention speech.) More after the jump.
I spoke to about 20 voters before and after the speech, and while many were already backing Sen. John McCain, just about all of the women told me that Palin was the one who got them out of the house (or playing hooky from work) and to the rally on a Tuesday afternoon. I focused on speaking with women, because those are the voters both parties are after this year. And in Pennsylvania, the support of those women is especially key, since Sen. Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary over Sen. Barack Obama.
The campaign said there were 10,000 people there; there's no way to verify that independently, but it seemed a reasonable (if not slightly optimistic) number to me. And, uh, I think it's actually a bigger crowd than the college gets for its football games. Several people told me they drove more than an hour to get there.
Afterwards, the event had the feel immediately after a concert or professional sporting event, when groupies and fans are trying to get up to the stage to meet the band or the team. After Palin spoke, people scrambled to get as close as possible, to have their photo taken with her -- or even have her to autograph placards, T-shirts and baseball caps. Her husband, Todd, passed the stuff to her to sign, then passed it back. (The aforementioned Annelise Vidal showed me the photo of her and Palin that she snapped with her cameraphone.) It was a little surreal to watch -- the last time I interviewed Palin in person was right before the Exxon Valdez Supreme Court hearing in Washington D.C., and she walked into the room virtually unnoticed. Now, she's surrounded by Secret Service agents and adoring fans/voters. (And in fact, when they first walked into the basketball arena, I thought Todd was one of the Secret Service agents hovering. Tall, athletic build, dark suit.)
Todd's presence didn't stop one of the men I interviewed (Steve Ackerman, 33) from running up to me and offering this up, after we'd already concluded the interview and I was on the way to my jeep. Ackerman: "Oh, actually, the biggest reason I'm voting for her? She's super hot."