The evening before her big “tea party” speech in Indianola, Iowa, Sarah Palin arrived to raucous cheers and no small amount of delighted surprise at a meet-up of Conservatives4Palin in a sprawling restaurant just outside Des Moines.
Conservatives4Palin is a website that chronicles, defends and promotes all things Palin. It was co-founded by Rebecca Mansour, who has been Palin’s speechwriter since coming to the attention of the former Alaska governor through the website.
About 200 people had turned out at the Machine Shed, one of those restaurants with a manufactured kind of folksiness and lots of jars of jam and old-fashioned candy for sale in front. Many of those in attendance were known to each other only by their Conservatives4Palin, or C4P, handles. Sapwolf, for instance, turns out to be Thomas Chanteloup of Council Bluffs, Iowa, a 47-year-old IT guy. And the person who goes by “4 Such a Time as THIS” turns out to be Anne Regnier, a very nice woman from a nearby neighborhood who was more or less gobsmacked that Sarah and Todd Palin actually showed up.
“I just had to pinch myself,” said Regnier, who told Todd Palin that she was praying for the couple. She also told him, “There are no expectations. Only what God wants to do.” This sentiment -- don’t feel like you have to run for president -- has gotten her into a little bit of hot water on the C4P website, where the faithful are all about urging Palin to run.
Many in the crowd had arrived by bus from Texas, which seems to be a particular stronghold of Palin supporters, despite the fact that the state’s governor, Rick Perry, is the presumptive leader in the race for the 2012 Republican nomination.
“Perry represents crony capitalism,” said Mai Duong, a naturalized citizen from Vietnam who is an accountant in Houston. Duong, who emigrated in 1994 and became a U.S. citizen 10 years later, said she was never political before the 2008 presidential campaign.
She was so dismayed by the way Palin was treated as Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential nominee, she said, that she was moved to become involved. “A current governor shouldn’t be labeled as ‘bimbo’ or ‘stupid,’” said Duong. “I think the media did her wrong. I was shocked at the amount of negative reporting.”
Coming from a communist country where there was no freedom of the press, Duong said, she felt the coverage of Palin in 2008 was “not reflective of a democratic society.”
Jet Tiraphatna, a 42-year-old Thai American gas station owner from Texarkana, had come with his five children: 7-year-old twins, 9, 11, 16. (His wife had to stay home for work.)
Tiraphatna said he had supported Perry in his reelection for governor, but that he prefers Palin for president.
Not, you know, that she’s running. Palin, who has said she will make a decision on the race by the end of September, did not offer anything new on the subject as she brushed by reporters to enter the restaurant. Nor did she speak, other than to greet supporters and pose for photos.
A few minutes before Palin arrived, Joanna Holbrook flew into the restaurant, looking a little disoriented after a 12-hour drive with her daughter from Traverse City, Mich.
“I got so excited that I thought I’d come no matter what,” said Holbrook, 64. She loves Palin, she said, because they have so much in common, a theme that crops up regularly among Palin lovers. “I am a mother of nine,’ said Holbrook. “She is a mother of five. She loves the Lord. I love the Lord. She loves America. I love America. Sarah is so down home. She’s just one of us.”