Keynoter or Not, Palin Steals Spotlight at GOP Fundraiser

By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, June 9, 2009

As the Republican faithful filed in for cocktails at last night's fundraiser at the Washington Convention Center, a musical group called the Right On Band was entertaining them with a soul tune:

Rock the boat, don't rock the boat baby

Rock the boat, don't tip the boat over

It seems that even the band had heard about Sarah Palin's appearance at the dinner.

First the Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee was invited to be the keynote speaker at the party's annual congressional fundraising dinner.

Then she was not the keynoter, replaced by former House speaker Newt Gingrich.

Then she was invited to speak, again. Then that invitation was rescinded.

Then she let word slip out that she was unhappy about the whole state of events and was thinking of not attending at all.

Then -- after much public bickering between Palin loyalists and party officials -- she finally agreed to come, speaking slot or no.

In that sense, the Right On Band was spot-on with its choice of songs for the Republican lawmakers and donors. Palin's relationship with her party represents nothing so much as a lovers' quarrel, and the mostly Motown musical selection -- "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," "My Girl," "Baby I Need Your Lovin' " -- hit all the right notes: passion, jealousy, love and guilt. In a burst of optimism, organizers allowed two knives to be placed at each of the 2,000 place settings -- one, apparently, to stick in the food and one to use on fellow Republicans.

Receipts from the dinner, the biggest fundraising event of the year for House and Senate Republicans, totaled $14.5 million, down slightly from recent years. The wine on the table, modest bottles of Woodbridge, fit the austerity of the times. Gone were the metal detectors of recent years. Instead, little-known Republican congressional leaders with names such as Eric Cantor and Jon Kyl were escorted in by their security details. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana entered the room, unescorted, with a mostly empty glass of wine.

But the buzz last night was less about the dollar take than about who would be appearing on the dais. In past years, President George W. Bush had been the dinner's keynoter. Whoever the party leaders selected for last night's keynote could legitimately claim a modicum of heir transparency. Hence the intrigue over the two would-be keynote speakers, Gingrich and Palin, each with an eye on a 2012 presidential run.

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