Sarah Palin, who has been an animating force in Republican races across the country, took to a stage in Orange County on Saturday to rally voters for the sprint to election day, separated by hundreds of miles from the top two members of California’s GOP ticket.
Gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman and Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina campaigned at opposite ends of the state while Palin, immensely popular in some political quarters and reviled in others, rallied supporters at a raucous gathering in Anaheim.
Feeding off the crowd’s frustration with healthcare reform, the stimulus and the recession, the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee said the election would turn on their efforts over the next 17 days.
“Let’s pledge our lives, our fortune, our sacred honor. Will you do it?” she asked attendees who paid $20 and up to attend the Republican fundraiser. “You wouldn’t be here today if you didn’t know too that America is at a turning point. … People know something has gone terribly wrong with our government and it has gotten so far off track. But people also know that there is nothing wrong in America that a good old-fashioned election can’t fix.”
Palin played a critical role in Fiorina’s primary victory, blunting opponents by endorsing the former Hewlett-Packard chief. But on Saturday, she did not mention Fiorina or Whitman by name. Palin mocked Fiorina’s rival, Sen. Barbara Boxer, as overly concerned about a small endangered fish whose protections have restricted water flowing to farmers in the Central Valley.
“Now where I come from, we call a 2-inch fish, we call that bait,” she said.
And she derided President Obama as overly conciliatory with foreign nations.
“We have a president today who is getting pretty good at apologizing, but see, he’s apologizing to all the wrong people,” she said. “So Mr. President, with all due respect, next time that urge to apologize waves on over you, I have some suggestions for who to apologize to. How about apologizing to the 15 million Americans who are looking for work today?”
Palin was introduced by Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele as someone “who strikes fear in the heart of those on the left.” The most prominent candidate to appear with Palin was state Assemblyman Van Tran, who is trying to unseat Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a Democrat from Garden Grove.
Whitman and Fiorina cited scheduling conflicts as the reason they could not attend.
“We made this commitment to be here many, many months ago and it’s a commitment that we needed to keep,” Fiorina told reporters after speaking to veterans in San Diego with Arizona Sen. John McCain, who picked Palin as his running mate in 2008.
But the candidates also had political rationales for avoiding a joint appearance. A recent Field poll showed that nearly two-thirds of independent voters in California view Palin unfavorably — and Republicans here need the support of independents to overcome Democrats’ double-digit voter registration edge.
Whitman campaigned throughout Northern California as part of her statewide bus tour, concluding a three-city swing at the Black Bear Diner in Redding. For days, the candidate has sidestepped questions about Palin.
Asked Saturday if Palin’s support was a positive, Whitman replied, “I want everyone on my side.”
When asked Friday if Palin, who is believed to be mulling a 2012 White House run, was qualified to be president, Whitman offered a tepid response.
“Technically, she’s qualified to be president because you have to be a U.S. citizen and be in good standing,” she said.
While Whitman’s distance from Palin reflects the more moderate road she has taken, Fiorina’s avoidance is a marked contrast from the primary, when she welcomed Palin’s help.
After Palin endorsed Fiorina as a “commonsense conservative” who she described as “pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, pro-military and pro-strict border security,” the Fiorina campaign sent mailers to voters highlighting Palin’s backing. Fiorina’s campaign manager later credited the mail piece with boosting the candidate almost overnight.
In the general election, Boxer has wielded Palin’s backing of Fiorina as a weapon — arguing that it illustrates that her rival is allied with the far-right wing of the Republican Party.
Boxer’s campaign released a new television ad on the eve of Palin’s Anaheim event, highlighting the endorsement as well as Fiorina’s opposition to the 1994 assault weapons ban and to abortion, in most cases.
“Just too extreme for California,” the ad’s narrator says in its closing line.
Fiorina’s campaign manager Marty Wilson called the ad a “deliberate and blatant distortion of reality.”
Times staff writer Michael J. Mishak contributed to this report.