Republicans who gathered in Anaheim on Saturday sought to translate their enthusiasm for the general election ticket -- specifically for vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin -- into gains in November.
In the hotel meeting rooms where the three-day state GOP convention was underway, talk bubbled about Palin. T-shirts bearing her likeness flew off the shelves -- including one with Palin’s face imposed over the classic Rosie-the-Riveter pose. At least half a dozen delegates bought the $368 frame-less glasses popularized by the Alaska governor, who smiled down on them from the framed cover of Time magazine.
Late in the day, the silent auction of commemorative plaques featuring Republican notables offered loud testimony to her new place in the party: Ronald Reagan’s was going for $90. John McCain’s was going for $100.
And Sarah Palin’s was at $200 and counting.
Shellie Whalen, a Yorba Linda mother and volunteer turned entrepreneur with her own “Palin Power” line of shirts, said that she hadn’t felt a strong affinity for McCain until his selection of the Alaska governor as his running mate. In Palin, she said, she saw herself.
“She embraces her femininity, her motherhood,” she said. “But she’s got teeth. Just like the rest of us.”
A statewide poll this week underscored the effect Palin has had on the Republican base. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, GOP satisfaction with their presidential choice has doubled since Palin joined the ticket. Unfortunately for McCain, that has not translated into gains against Democrat Barack Obama in California, which has gone to the Democratic presidential candidate in the last four presidential elections.
Still, state Republicans were rejoicing at the possibilities. Thomas G. Del Beccaro, the state party vice chairman, said new volunteers were streaming in faster than at any time since the 2003 recall election. Republicans, he said, were hopeful that a resulting increase in voters would help the party in legislative and congressional races where they might not have been as competitive otherwise.
“Two months ago it was slowly growing, and then it exploded” once Palin was named, he said. “Like throwing a match into a barn.”
Former Gov. Pete Wilson, who spoke to delegates Saturday, praised Palin as “a woman of some considerable spunk.”
“She’s got guts,” he said. “And she’s also got intelligence.”
At the same time he was praising Palin, who has been governor for less than two years, he was skewering Obama, a four-year senator, as too inexperienced to go toe-to-toe with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and other world leaders.
“This is not someone who is ready to deal with someone like Putin,” Wilson said of Obama. Asked later how he squared his criticism of Obama and praise of Palin, Wilson cited her executive experience.
Wilson, no stranger to fierce political fights, accused Obama of underhanded campaign tactics.
He did not offer examples, but described the Illinois Democrat as “someone who has adhered to a time-honored Democratic philosophy -- too often a philosophy that translates into, I think, the most divisive and cynical class warfare.”
Wilson came under the same criticism himself after leading battles against illegal immigration and affirmative action.
Obama spokesman Gabriel Sanchez dismissed Wilson’s claims. “Pete Wilson is the grand-daddy of divisive politics in California, " he said.
Republicans did face some divisions of their own. The California Republican Assembly, a fiercely conservative organization, has voted to investigate whether to join in a proposed recall of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The recall has been proposed by the state’s prison guards. The California Republican Assembly’s members turned down another proposal to endorse the recall, but insisted that did not indicate affection for Schwarzenegger. “If you’re going to have a tax-raising liberal, wouldn’t you rather have it be a Democrat?” asked activist Jon Fleischman.