This post has been updated.
Participants in the annual Rolling Thunder motorcycle ride Sunday expressed mixed feelings about the involvement of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R).
Palin, along with husband Todd and daughters Bristol and Piper, joined the hundreds of thousands of riders who gather in D.C. every year to raise awareness for prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.
Palin’s arrival at the event around 11:30 a.m. caused a huge commotion that event organizers struggled to contain. Photographers swarmed her; young men in suits hung around the press pack asking Palin to sign copies of her books. Rolling Thunder security yelled at press and fans not to touch the expensive bikes.
“I’m very not appreciative of the way she came in here,” Ted Shpak, Rolling Thunder’s national legislative director, said of Palin’s arrival. The former governor came in the front of the Pentagon’s north parking lot, where event staff and press were assembled. “If she wanted to come on the ride, she should have come in the back.”
The ride goes from the Pentagon, past the Vietnam Memorial, to the National Mall where a rally is held. Palin met with wounded veterans at the rally but did not speak. From there, she is headed on a coming tour of historic sites in the Northeast, about which details are unavailable.
Some riders were enthusiastic about Palin’s participation; others said politics has no place in the event.
“It intimidates our people if we’re pro or con any particular candidate,” said Wayne Kirkpatrick, chairman of the board of an Illinois chapter of Rolling Thunder. “And until national says there's a candidate we’re and supporting them, we don’t want to feel because the president of this chapter is pro-tea party, ‘Gee, I have to be or else I better get out of this organization.”
While many riders said they were fans of Palin, they still did not want her to bring politics to the ride. “Don’t come here and try to make a political point out of it,” said Joe Clark of Pennsylvania. “If she’s just here backing the cause of the entire run, that’s fine. If she’s just trying to get votes, she should just stay out of it.”
Mark Posey of Indiana agreed: “I think she has no reason the be involved in this,” he said. “If she’s launching her campaign to run for president, I don’t think this is the place to start.”
“I don’t think she has any business having anything to do with Rolling Thunder. It’s not a political statement, so to speak. It’s not a Republican or a Democrat thing,” said Denise Throckmorton, who lives outside of Pittsburgh.
But not everyone was opposed.
“I’m delighted… I think its just great. Her son serves,” Virginia resident Gretchen Fisher said referring to Palin’s son Track, who is in the Army.
Details of Palin’s trip have not been released to the press or the public. Her handling of the event highlights both the advantages and disadvantages she would bring to the presidential race. She can create buzz just by taking a trip and has a command of media and public attention that no other potential candidate possesses. On the other hand, the secrecy and apparent lack of coordination suggest she does not have the infrastructure to launch a serious campaign.
Wherever Palin goes, we’ll be following her on this map.