With the peaceful town of Wasilla, Alaska but a speck in Sarah Palin’s rear view mirror these days, the former Governor of Alaska is once again making news on the national scene with the kickoff of her “Going Rogue” book tour. Here in the Star City she is no less popular than she was when making campaign stops last fall to crowds that would make any seasoned politician swoon. Her appearance in Salem last year drew over 16,000 in spite of frigid weather, and her Barnes & Noble book signing event this past Sunday brought people out in droves in hopes of getting a signed copy of her new book “Going Rogue, An American Life.” The book is published by Harper Collins and was number one on the New York Times best-seller list two weeks before publication.
People started lining up at 8 a.m. Saturday, with several hundred arriving by evening prepared to camp for the night. Calls that were coming in as early as last week to the Valley View Barnes & Noble gave a hint as to the possible size and enthusiasm of the crowd that showed up. According to Casey Barham, a Barnes & Noble employee, “a lady from Missouri called to ask if she could bring her lawn chair and a lady from California asked if she could get a signed copy sent to her.” For the record, the answers were yes and no respectively. Patrons had to get their copies (limit 2) signed in person.
Billy Richmond, a big Palin supporter, drove up from Norfolk for the event and camped out along with a friend from Yorktown, Denise Spencer, who left behind her husband and 3 sons to get a sure shot at the opportunity to have her book signed. Richmond just shook his head when expressing his feelings on how hard some of the media have been on Palin; “She has just been savaged—what’s going on? What did she do wrong?” Speculating on why this may be the case, he said it “might be because she‘s not the stereotypical feminist, she is not politically correct—is pro-life, a member of the NRA, which is part of her appeal. She just presents herself as ‘This is who I am.’”
Spencer, also an avid Palin follower who is involved in the grass roots 2012 Draft Sarah Committee, (www.2012draftsarahcommittee.com) handed out cards to anyone who was interested. Spencer says she got involved after hearing Palin’s speech at the convention. “I did my research and became convinced that she is genuine and would be great for our country.”
Peter McGuire traveled from Elkin, NC along with his wife, who joked that, “she came along so I wouldn’t run off with Sarah.” He compares Palin to Harry Truman, saying “she’s not a country club Republican.”
Two sisters from South Boston may have been among the oldest of those who braved the entire night in the cold: Liz Dyer (63) and Lois Choquette (76) set up camp with plenty of blankets. Choquette said, “we’ve raised 6 kids apiece; we’re tough! –for Sarah I would do this.” She quickly added, “I think she’s got so much common sense… she could run this country better than any man around.”
According to Denise Spencer, Palin’s Twitter site had an update Saturday at 9:40 p.m. saying they were leaving Rochester, NY bound for Roanoke. At about 11:05 p.m., much to the crowd’s complete shock and delight, Palin’s bus pulled in for a surprise visit. Palin and her family disembarked and she spoke to the group, thanking them for their dedication, saying how happy she was to see all of them. In light of the fact that they were braving the night ahead, she said, “You guys are the real patriots!”
By Sunday morning security was visible everywhere with agents even stationed on the roof of Barnes & Noble, who kept watch over a sea of Palin supporters in the parking lot in front of the store. Shortly before 10 a.m. the tour bus, adorned with the book cover design, rolled slowly into the parking lot to a chorus of loud cheering.
Palin’s daughter Piper was first off the bus, followed by Palin holding son Trig on her arm as they entered the store. The crowd wasn’t disappointed as Palin extended her scheduled appearance by two hours to accommodate as many people as she could. By one estimate, she autographed nearly 2,000 books. She tried to make eye contact and personally addressed as many as she could, thanking them for coming.
Just prior to beginning the bus tour, Palin made the rounds on TV and radio talk shows alike, causing the usual pundits to offer a variety of opinions on almost everything she has said – including whether she is doing all this as a prelude to a possible Presidential run in 2012. She answered that question on Oprah by saying that “what I’m finding more and more every day is that a title isn’t necessary to make a difference.”
Palin brings out an extra measure of passion both in her supporters and detractors alike — and for her book tour, the supporters are showing up in huge numbers. Whether they would show up at the voting booth to pull the lever for a Palin for President Ticket remains to be seen but judging from the scene in Roanoke on Sunday there are a lot of people who would like nothing better than to do just that.By Cheryl Hodges and Carla Bream [email protected]