By Jason Horowitz
Thursday, November 19, 2009
GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. -- Sarah Palin's "Going Rogue" tour is going perfectly according to plan.
True to the last page of her memoir, in which the former Alaska governor writes, "We can't abandon Michigan and places like it," Palin and the media steamroller she has been riding for the last week kicked off her book tour on Wednesday in the state the McCain campaign deserted, to her publicly expressed chagrin.
Her return had all the trappings of a political campaign -- bus, advance team, security detail, political handlers, rope lines, satellite trucks and approximately 2,000 supporters and gawkers on site.
A blue coach bus with "Going Rogue With Sarah!" written on the front over the likeness of a moose pulled up outside the Barnes and Noble here at about 5:30 p.m. The campaign anthem "Only in America" played on a speaker outside the store. When she got off the bus, wearing her familiar uniform of black skirt, high heels and red blazer, she waved with one hand and held her son Trig, dressed in a striped green sweater, in the other. The group erupted in applause. She walked to a small platform in the middle of the crowd, said "Thank you so much for showing up," and handed Trig to an aide.
"There is just something about Michigan," she said. "I couldn't wait to get to Michigan."
She said Michigan was a lot like Alaska, with "the huntin' and fishin' and the hockey moms," and paid tribute to its "hardworking patriotic Americans."
She spoke on conservative message about free enterprise and the "revitalization of your economy," and said she expected to see "some miraculous things happen in this part of our land."
Then she urged everyone to buy her book, "so you can read my words unfiltered."
One supporter screamed, "Tea party!"
As she made her way to the store's entrance, a television reporter offered her some elk jerky as bait for an interview. Others leaned over a barrier of security guards and police officers to shout questions.
Reporter: "What do you think of the Newsweek cover?"
Palin: "I think it's quite cheesy. I would never have posed for Newsweek in shorts."
Reporter: "2012? What are the possibilities?"
Palin "Not rulin' it out. Not closin' any doors."
Reporter: "Governor, are you inspired by these crowds?"
Palin: "I am inspired by these crowds!"
Reporter: "John McCain came out swinging, saying that he agrees with Nicolle Wallace and Steve Schmidt. Are you saddened by that?"
Palin: "I have great respect for John McCain, but I think I had the opportunity to write truth in the book."
"Thank you for coming. God bless you," she concluded, and went upstairs to sign books in front of a blue curtain and under blown-up covers of James Joyce's "Ulysses" and Homer's "Iliad."
Nearly 24 hours before the former vice-presidential candidate arrived, her most fervent admirers made the pilgrimage to the Woodland Mall in the western part of the state, where enormous box stores line the highway and workers in safety vests were loading up deer carcasses into a pickup truck.
Laura Lomik, 19, dressed in a "Sarah Palin Is My Hero" T-shirt, proudly stood first in line with her girlfriends, each of whom held two copies of "Going Rogue: An American Life." The three of them had driven two hours from Brighton and arrived at the mall at 9 p.m. for a long, sleepless night of adrenaline and anticipation. At 5:30 a.m., the doors to the mall opened, orange wristbands were dispensed, and the trio claimed first-in-line privileges.
"We're here because she's not afraid to tell the media how she really feels," said Lomik, who added she prefers the search engine "Palin it" to Google.
"And nothing ever happens in Michigan!" interjected her friend, Lucy Vigmostad, 18, who wore a McCain-Palin pin on her shirt. Also, she added that Palin's oldest son, Track, had once lived in Michigan, at which point the young women declared in unison, "He's hot!"
At the front of the bookstore, a display of "Going Rogue" books sat next to a table loaded with tomes by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Vladimir Nabokov. NBC, CNN, ABC and other networks set up their live shots nearby. And Judith Doctor, 69, asked a Barnes and Noble employee for an orange wristband, to no avail.
Doctor, a self-described spiritual therapist, said that Americans have mostly misunderstood Palin's visceral appeal. It has nothing to do with her politics, or her folksiness, or her looks, she asserted.
"She's alive inside, and that radiates energy, and people who are not psychologically alive inside are fascinated by that. There's a wire in those left-wing liberals that has never been quickened, and Sarah's got it."
Doctor described the day she saw Palin introduced as McCain's running mate as one in which "an electric shock went through me. I began to weep. There is something about that woman that has destiny, whether it's in politics, to be president, or to host a talk show."
A few feet away, Kevin Elsenheimer, the Republican leader of the Michigan House of Representatives, procured a green VIP wristband for himself and his young daughter.
"She is starting this tour here because Michigan was conspicuously left out of the McCain campaign's plans," he said. Elsenheimer noted that the day before, Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee, two other potential Republican presidential candidates in 2012, had stopped in Grand Rapids, but said former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, himself a son of a Michigan governor, would be tough to beat here. "What we know is that there isn't anyone else who excites the Republican base like her, and that's a valuable commodity. But to be considered a player, she is going to have to appeal to more than the Palin base."
As for Palin, when asked on the rope line if she felt like she was out on the trail again, she responded: "No, this is a lot of fun."