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Palin speech stresses familiarity and small-town values

by Jordan Green

Republican vice presidential nominee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s visit to Elon University on Oct. 16 was a defiant and dispirited affair, with many local GOP leaders acknowledging privately and publicly that the party faces significant challenges here in North Carolina and around the country.

Country music singer Hank Williams Jr. performed by himself, contending with feedback, for a teeming crowd of upwards of 7,000 massed on a baseball field in the sweltering midday heat before the new star of the GOP arrived. The stands at the stadium hold 2,000, but spectators filled the infield and at least part of the outfield.

“Some are bound to tell you I’m preaching to the choir,” Williams sang in his new version of “Family Tradition” refashioned as a campaign theme song for the Republican ticket. “And that is very true, but we’re going even higher. Like a mama bear from Idaho, she’ll protect your family tradition. But if you mess with her cubs, she’s gonna take off the gloves. That’s an American, family tradition.”

Richard Burr, the state’s junior Republican senator, introduced Palin by reprising the late Republican Sen. Jesse Helms’ 1972 campaign slogan in his contest against Democratic candidate Nick Galifianakis, but that was the only reference, even subtle, to race.

“A lot of you feel like you know Sarah Palin,” Burr said. “And you do. Because she’s one of us. She gets up every morning and balances her professional with something all of you do — your family life.”

An Oct. 13 poll by Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling gave Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, a 49-46 lead over McCain, a slightly narrowed margin compared to polling the previous week. The Democratic polling organization said that Obama had picked up support from unaffiliated voters apparently turned off by McCain’s negative advertising and Obama is strongly favored among voters who believe the economy is the most important issue of the election. McCain picked up support from Republicans and conservative Democrats, helping him make up ground overall.

The day after the final debate between the two presidential contenders, Palin seemed to acknowledge her ticket’s difficulties, while embracing the underdog role. Noting Elon University’s mascot, the phoenix, she remarked, “There’s something providential about that. I hope you watched the debate last night because the man from Phoenix proved once again that he is the best choice to be our next president.” (Sen. McCain represents the state of Arizona.)

She highlighted “Joe the plumber,” the mythologized plumbing employee who confronted Obama on the campaign trail the previous weekend about the effect of the presidential candidate’s pledge to raise taxes on individuals and businesses that earn more than $250,000. When Palin knocked Obama as wanting “to redistribute your hard-earned money,” the crowd gave a collective boo.

The speech returned periodically to the theme of reducing burdens on small business owners, and the audience members confirmed that the issue resonated with them.

“We are going to let small business keep more of their money, so they can hire more employees,” Palin said. “That’s how jobs are created.”

Early on, she invoked President Reagan’s theme of small government, and rallied supporters with patriotic rhetoric.

“They think government is the solution,” Palin said of the Democrats. “I disagree with that. I think too often government is the problem.” Then, pivoting to her running mate, she said of McCain: “He’s the only one in the race who talks about the wars America is involved in, and uses the word ‘victory.’”

The crowd chanted in response, “USA, USA, USA,” and Palin noted her son’s and other citizen’s military service in Iraq.

“Yes, we thank you for your sacrifice,” she said. “You are the ones who are allowing us to assemble freely, and have free and fair elections.”

The vice-presidential candidate directly invoked Reagan’s description of the United States as a “shining city on a hill.”

“We believe the best of America is not found in Washington,” she said. “It’s found in the kindness and goodness of real-town America, where people don’t ask much from government. They ask government to be on their side, and stay out of their way.”

Palin refrained from making some of the more harsh attacks on the Democratic ticket that had surfaced in her speeches over the previous couple weeks. Likewise, the epithets shouted by supporters in the past were missing at the Elon University event. But on the matter of elections, she punched hard. Democrats have registered a record number of new voters in North Carolina this year, and made a state that once reliably favored Republican candidates in presidential contests into a crucial battleground state.

“One ticket will never tolerate voter fraud,” she said. “The other party won’t disavow an organization that is committing voter fraud.”

Palin did not mention the name of the organization, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, which has been investigated in several battleground states for fraudulent voter registrations. In many cases, employees who are paid extra for turning in new registrations have submit forms with falsified or outlandish names to pad their earnings, but no evidence has emerged to indicate that the organization intends to find illegal voters to cast ballots with the phony registrations in a concerted effort to change the result of the election.

On two occasions, university students supporting Obama who received free tickets to attend the event, were escorted from the ballpark, and one outburst prompted a brief pause in Palin’s speech. Some of them chanted, “Obama, Obama” and one protester shouted, “No more blood for oil.” The Republican regulars responded by chanting “Nobama, Nobama” and “USA, USA,” and cheering as the Obama supporters were escorted away. Later, student protesters taunted McCain supporters with signs and laughter as they left the event.

One young woman held a sign reading, “I can see the moon from my window. Does that make me an astronaut?”

Anger at the protesters and at journalists for giving them attention resulted in isolated violence. A News & Record reporter, Joe Killian reported that a McCain supporter kicked him in the back of the leg and knocked him to the ground after he tried to interview Obama supporters, and then chuckled at students who played a pro-Obama rap song and displayed Obama signs from dormitory windows.

Palin’s speech also highlighted another issue that has given her party traction: domestic energy production.

“There’s more clean coal in this free country than there is oil in Saudi Arabia,” she said. “We need to drill here and drill now.”

A brief chant went up: “Drill, baby, drill.”

“You’re right,” Palin said. “Drill, baby, drill. And mine, baby, mine.”

Few among the Republican ticket’s supporters were not already fans of Palin before they heard her.

“I don’t believe in big government,” said Scott Carpenter of Angier. “I helped start a business in Raleigh, a dot-com,” he said. “We don’t want all these taxes put on us, so we’ll have to start laying people off, which we’re already having to do.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com.

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