Photographs by Whitney Archer

SO I WENT to see Sarah Palin. Okay, let me rephrase that. I hauled my two-month-old son, diaper bag, bottles, spit cloth, and notebook to see her. 15 days ago, I didn’t know her name. Now she’s just Sarah.

I’m not the only one. In the largest event yet, an estimated 20,000 people, showed up Wednesday to see the stars of the Republican Party here in Fairfax, Virginia. Well, McCain showed up and Sarah starred. That’s how they—the adoring throngs—refer to her: he’s McCain and she’s Sarah. They braved horrific traffic, parking, and the occasional Obama protester to see the self-proclaimed bulldog in lipstick. McCain may be running for president, but Palin has already won their hearts.

Oh, and Todd Palin the old ladies. A friend told me that when the Palins took the stage, one blue-haired enthusiast burst out “Oh her first dude is adorable!” Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the hottest first dude since well, ever (okay, I really want to say Hillary here, but my husband says that’s dumb). Forget John McCain, we want the Palins.

Carrying signs that read “God speed, Track” and “Special Ed teacher for Trig’s mom,” Republicans proved that McCain’s pick was more than a deal-breaker. A good portion of the crowd wore red to show support in the battleground state. Pins and stickers echoed sentiments like “Go Sarah Go!” and “Drill baby drill!” My favorite, given Obama’s recent pig comment, was “Real men love women who wear lipstick.”

McCain boasted of Todd Palin’s achievement as a four-time winner of the Tesoro Iron Dog race, a 2,000 mile and 40 degrees below zero event known as the “NASCAR of Snowmobile Racing.” Indeed, the First Dude of Alaska is a “Sledneck.” He stood beside his caribou-shooting wife as she declared in a Canadian (oh, the irony of her possibly becoming the American president!) accent that “we’re shakin’ things up.”

Smaller Republican politicians (the likes of Congressman Frank Wolf and presidential hopeful Fred Thompson) opened the rally, but the crowd waited for the real stars to arrive. Thompson stalled for a few minutes and began to draw a biblical comparison to the book of Esther. She was a leader who was called for “such a time as this,” he said. I thought he was going to say Sarah (since she was a beauty queen contestant also) was the comparison, but no, it was McCain. Who knew the Arizona senator could be compared to a king’s consort?

As the motorcade pulled up, the theme music began. McCain’s song? “The Eye of the Tiger.” That and “Life is a Highway.” A middle aged lady in front of me was so inspired, she began to booty dance and I have pictures to prove it.

The speeches were fine, if a bit predictable. Palin echoed themes from her convention speech: family, military, and change in Washington. She promised to cut spending and return taxpayers’ money as she did as governor. “Government isn’t always the answer. Government is almost always the problem,” she said. McCain continued his promises to not follow the party line, but to “put our country first.” Calling himself and Palin “a team of mavericks,” he said his first act as President would be to veto the first spending bill that came across his desk.

Throughout the event, supporters chanted “USA!” after hearing promises of Alaskan oil drilling. But then they resumed chanting for the heroine of the hour: “Sarah! Sarah! Sarah!” The least popular chant? “John McCain!”

After the speeches, people began the long walks back to their cars. One couple next to me said that the speeches were almost identical to those at the convention. A little girl, seeing a woman get into the motorcade, asked her mother “is that the woman who was in jail?” A man responded, “Wrong party, honey.”

On the way out, a man asked why my son had tape across his face. I explained that it was a pre-surgical procedure for his cleft lip and palate. It’s one of the reasons I was curious about the rally: to see the man whose wife is on a charity cleft board and whose adopted daughter had the same condition.

Sarah, her sledneck first dude, and their children may be charming the nation, but both families are working a spell on Republicans they hope will last until November 4th.

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