CLEVELAND, Mo—Sarah Palin did not disappoint.

The crowd cheered and applauded repeatedly during her speech here Friday night, from her opening remarks about “mama grizzlies” on the Missouri state flag to her promise to stop at the local Chick-fil-A for a midnight snack.

It was the first time I’d ever seen Palin in person, and it was well worth the 19-mile drive from my suburban Kansas City home to The Berry Patch, a you-pick blueberry farm near Cleveland, Mo., population 665, in rural Cass County.

Not because I’m a fan or even agree with her ideology, but to see what all the fuss has been about.

Palin was in the Kansas City area to campaign for Sarah Steelman (For The Washington Post/Diana Reese)

Palin was in the Kansas City area to campaign for Sarah Steelman, who’s in a tight three-way race in Tuesday’s Republican primary for Missouri’s U.S. Senate seat. The winner will face Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) in November.

The Steelman Surge BBQ and Picnic featured speeches by Steelman and Palin, followed with Kansas City barbecue served up by the two women to a crowd estimated at 500 or more, many of whom waited an hour or longer.

Palin was there to lend some of her magic to Steelman, who shares not only her conservative views but an independence and willingness to buck the political system. (One of Steelman’s goals is to end Congressional pensions, for example.)

A half-dozen or so senatorial candidates have been endorsed by Palin this summer, including last week’s winner in Texas, Ted Cruz.

Somehow, Palin has achieved celebrity status since the 2008 election. How many failed vice presidential candidates and former Alaska governors end up with book deals and reality TV shows? With an estimated net worth of $12 million?

When Palin took to the makeshift stage in the middle of a Missouri farm field, she was dressed more for the part of Hollywood celebrity than serious politician. I know someone’s going to remind me that just last week, I said it was sexist to focus on the wardrobes of women in politics.

But it was hard for me to take Palin seriously dressed as she was.

First, her shoes: Five-inch wedges. Her black capris weren’t quite skin-tight but tight enough, and her t-shirt with its Superman logo (a Steelman campaign shirt emblazoned with “Our freedom. Our fight.”) emphasized her figure. She never once removed her oversized sunglasses.

I’m sorry, but I’d like my minister, my doctor and yes, my politicians, to look and dress for their parts.

Once Palin spoke, I couldn’t help but think she sometimes sounds like a caricature of herself. Perhaps it’s her unique manner of speaking or her overuse of certain phrases.

There were moments during her 15-minute speech that I felt like applauding and there were certainly moments that I groaned.


Palin started her speech with a comment about the Missouri’s state flag, which does indeed feature three grizzly bears, representing the strength and bravery of the state’s citizens. Whether any of the grizzly bears is female, however, is open to debate.

But when Palin talked about Steelman, at age 18, working on Ronald Reagan’s campaign in 1976, the former Alaska governor turned to her and said, "You couldn’t have been 18, you must’ve been 2…what a hot mama grizzly you have!”

(Insert major groan here.)

Later, referring again to Reagan’s 1976 campaign, Palin said, “Back when Sarah and I were itty bitty babies.”

I would think a mama grizzly would be proud of her age.

Meriting applause were her references to Steelman’s experience as state treasurer and state senator and her attempts to rein in spending and perks for fellow politicians.

“She’s walkin’ the walk and not just talkin’ the talk,” Palin pointed out. Steelman has vowed to cut the deficit and get a balanced budget amendment passed.

And good advice for considering any candidate: Look at the record, not the rhetoric.

The tea party’s mantra of cutting spending and limiting the power of the federal government struck a chord with the audience, but never did the subject of jobs and job creation (my personal obsession) come up.

Instead, Palin reiterated Steelman’s slogan: “The status quo has got to go.”

She said Steelman was not heading to Washington to get invited to “frou-frou chi-chi D.C. cocktail parties.” Instead, she wants to “save our country’s economy and God-given freedoms” while protecting “the sanctity of human life.”

Palin’s certainly not part of the “in” crowd of Washington; none other than Dick Cheney recently blasted her for not being an appropriate choice for McCain’s running mate in 2008. So far, she’s not been invited to speak at the upcoming Republican National Convention.

But out here, just close enough to Kansas City for the metro’s media outlets to send camera crews and reporters to cover the event, the people loved Palin.

We’ll find out tomorrow if that love has rubbed off on Steelman.

Diana Reese is a freelance journalist in Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.

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