Friday, Oct. 31, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Halfway through a door-to-door canvass in a quiet Henderson neighborhood Thursday, Sarah Palin’s mother got distracted.
Sally Heath, wearing the dark-rimmed glasses made famous by her daughter, stood in a voter’s driveway and marveled at the tree in the front yard, its pink flowers blossoming. “Oh, they must get hummingbirds here,” she said to no one in particular.
Her husband, Chuck, looked on, and a few doors later, noticing an old Volkswagen Beetle, made his own observation. “That’s the size of a whale’s heart,” he said.
It’s exactly the type of folksy charm you’d expect from a retired school secretary and science teacher spending their golden years as wildlife specialists for the Agriculture Department in Alaska. And, for the most part, it resonated with voters — at least the ones who were home.
The couple spent two hours knocking on 14 doors for the Republican presidential ticket. In fact, it was something of a family affair; they were accompanied by their son, Chuck Jr., and Todd Palin’s parents, Jim and Faye. Together, they spoke with five voters and left handwritten notes for the rest. (Sample: “Sorry we missed you! Get out and VOTE!!!” Under his signature, Chuck Heath Sr. wrote “DAD!” in parentheses.)
These are the closing days of a campaign that for the Heaths — and their daughter — began just two months ago. It was Aug. 29 when Sen. John McCain named their daughter, a first-term governor of Alaska with no foreign policy experience, as his running mate. The couple said they learned of the news as did the rest of the world: from TV. With a gold mining-and-caribou-hunting trip rained out, they had returned home early that morning to Wasilla, where Sarah Palin once was mayor.
A friend called them and told them to turn on the television. They couldn’t believe it.
They had discussed the rumors, but their daughter never told them she was on a vice presidential short list.
They had finally adjusted to Sarah the governor, her father said Thursday. “It took us a long time for the governorship to sink in. We’re just a calm, ordinary family. This is overwhelming.”
Since then, they’ve stumped for their daughter throughout Alaska, made a few appearances in the Lower 48, and, this week, fired up volunteers in Nevada, perhaps the last Western battleground state still in play.
(Chuck Heath last visited the Southwest five years ago, when he was cougar hunting in Utah. At one stop, he admired a voter’s desert landscape. “I wish we had their lawn,” he said. “It takes two hours to mow ours.”)
Her addition to the ticket has been controversial, with polls showing her candidacy has been a drag on the Republican ticket. The Heaths won’t have any of it, though.
For one, there are three places in Alaska from which one can see Russia, Chuck said. One is Little Diomede Island, and Chuck said he has pictures to prove it. “That comment was taken out of context,” Chuck Jr. said. “People thought she meant she could see Russia from her front window.”
For her part, Palin has taken the criticism — and lampooning — in stride, the Heaths said. For instance, when Palin made a guest appearance on “Saturday Night Live” this month, she “got on terrifically well” with comedian Tina Fey, whose piercing Palin impersonations have helped the show score record ratings. (Palin came to a Halloween party dressed as Fey four years ago, Chuck said.)
On this day, the Heaths were a hit with McCain supporters, such as Nancy England, a homemaker and registered independent who clearly didn’t anticipate the visit and answered the door in a tank top and boxer shorts. “Oh wow! Oh my goodness!” she exclaimed, with her 3-year-old son Bo beside her in the doorway. “We’re already on your team!”
England pledged to vote early and assemble a crew of volunteers. In return, the Heath and Palin families posed for a portrait.
Then there was Greg Beard, a corporate sales manager and registered Republican.
“Can John McCain rely on your support,” Sally Heath asked.
“I support what he does,” Beard said, trailing off.
“But you don’t plan to vote for him?”
Beard is voting for Obama, he said, because of the economy. “I’m about to lose my house,” he told Sally. “I can’t put up with eight more years of what I’ve been through.”
Sally wished him well and encouraged him to vote. The group moved on.
Beard told the Sun he has lost half his sales and is having difficulty supporting his family — even on two incomes. “Something’s got to change,” he said. “I’m tired of what George Bush has been doing. I had faith in (Republicans). What’s a normal guy supposed to do when everything falls apart?”
The Heaths push on. There are doors to knock, volunteers to thank — and five days until Election Day.
“I feel really positive about her chances,” Chuck Heath said. “They’re closing the gap. We’re on a roll.”