Kevin Clifford / SPECIAL TO THE SUN
Monday, Sept. 15, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Sun Expanded Coverage
The crowd greeted her with chants of “Sarah, Sarah, Sarah.”
People said they had come to see “Sarah.”
“Sarah spoke to my heart,” said Patty Tietz of Carson City. “She’s not scripted. It sounds like she’s speaking, herself.”
At the Pony Express Pavilion in Carson City Saturday, voters said they connected with Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin in a way that was hard to explain, but that left them comfortable enough to refer to her simply as Sarah.
The speech Palin gave was essentially the stump speech she has given since she accepted the nomination two weeks ago. The crowd of 5,000 — with signs saying “Go Sarah Go” and “Read my lipstick McCain/Palin” buttons — reacted enthusiastically, nonetheless.
Some supporters of Sen. Barack Obama are on a first-name basis with their candidate. (That rarely happens with Sen. John McCain or Sen. Joe Biden.) Yet Democrats have been frustrated, maybe even flummoxed, by the way Palin appears to have changed the race for the White House.
She erased any bump in the polls that Obama got from the Democratic convention. And, as evidenced on Saturday, the Republican base is fired up. This is with a group that had given her running mate, McCain, a third-place finish in the January caucus, behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
Inquiries from Nevadans looking to volunteer for the McCain campaign went from a few hundred a week to 1,500 to 2,000 a week since Palin joined the ticket, according to the campaign.
Many voters here and across the country, particularly conservative women, have felt a personal connection with Palin — one that often goes beyond issues to the personal story of a mother from a small town who goes to church and feels comfortable handling a gun.
When pressed on issues, many of her supporters say she is a reformer who could change things in Washington. They like her anti-abortion stance, for sure, but more than that, they like the fact she gave birth to a baby with Down syndrome.
“She’s the most refreshing thing I’ve seen in politics in 25 years,” said Lorna Hoff, 60, of Reno. Hoff said she wouldn’t have come out to see McCain speak, though she would’ve “begrudgingly voted for him.” (“McCain has an awful lot of liberal tendencies. He’s a RINO,” she said, referring to the conservative slur Republican In Name Only.)
But Palin, she said, “is pro-life, pro-family, pro-working people. She’s one of us.”
Rep. Dean Heller, the Republican who grew up in Carson City, said the energy Palin has brought to Republicans in Nevada is unmistakable.
“She’s one of us,” he said. “The reason all these people are here, she’s one of us.”
A few months ago, it was a favorite pastime of Republicans and Hillary Clinton supporters to ask Obama backers to name one of the Illinois senator’s accomplishments. They complained that Obama was a celebrity, and his support wasn’t about a resume or policy, but about charisma and oratorical skills.
Now, frustrated Democrats say the race should focus on issues. A small protest organized by the Obama campaign was held before Palin’s appearance.
“Republicans called Obama a celebrity,” said Joyce Peirce of Carson City. “That’s all she is — McCain’s puppy dog.”
Inside the pavilion, the crowd cheered when Palin said she fought against pork, including the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” though in February she requested $198 million in federal earmarks and a number of independent groups have pointed out she opposed the bridge only after it became politically unpopular and Congress essentially killed it.
Palin said she fought to lower property taxes as mayor, though she neglected to say she also raised the sales tax to finance a hockey rink.
She said she fought the oil industry lobby and her own party, and said when the state had a surplus, she rebated the money to Alaska citizens. She did not say that the state’s $5 billion budget surplus (not counting the $750 million rebate) came from a large tax increase on oil royalties.
Of course, both sides are trying to make Palin into a caricature. For the left, it is to cast her as a frightening religious zealot. However, as governor she vetoed a bill that would have prevented same-sex couples from getting public employee benefits; she also drew flak from pro-life groups because she declined to take up two abortion-related measures during special sessions aimed at getting a natural gas pipeline agreement passed, saying the abortion-related proposals would be a distraction.
In a New Yorker interview, conducted before she was named McCain’s running mate, she said this: “I guess if you take the individual issues, two that I believe would be benchmarks showing whether you’re a hard-core Republican conservative or not, would be: I’m a lifetime member of the NRA — but this is Alaska, who isn’t? — and I am pro-life, absolutely.”
But she said she recognized that “the Democrats also preach individual freedoms and individual rights, capitalism, free market, let-it-do-its-thing-best, let people keep as much of their money that they earn as possible. And when it comes to, like, the Party machine, no one will accuse me of being partisan.”
As Steve Haycox, a professor of history at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, said of Palin, “she’s a pragmatist.”
For her new devotees on the right who turned out in Carson City on Saturday, and her fierce critics on the left, none of that may matter. It’s now something personal.