Palin to address fond Tea Party crowd

When Sarah Palin gives the keynote speech Saturday night at what’s being billed as the first national Tea Party convention, it’s safe to say that she’ll be among friends.

The former Alaska governor was the darling of many conservatives when she served as the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, and many of those attending the convention at Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center say they are big Palin supporters.

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Pam Silleman, a 52-year-old small-business owner and Tea Party activist, traveled to the convention from California’s Napa Valley. He called Palin “the Tea Party’s inspiration.”

Asked if Palin, who is considered a possible contender for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, should make a bid for the White House, Silleman said, “I would like to see her in a higher office but I don’t know that she’ll do it. I wouldn’t want her to be hurt that bad.”

Fremont Brown, a supporter who had “Palin 2012” bumper stickers with him, said Palin is “the right person.”

“She has fervent heart and she’s conservative,” added the 59-year-old Brown, who owns a small business in North Carolina. “She was the only one truly qualified with executive experience of the four who ran in 2008. The others were glorified lobbyists.”

If Palin does make a stab at presidential politics, she’ll have a natural following among Tea Party activists, whose grass-roots network is fueled by anger over the growth of the federal government and President Obama’s policies.

In a column earlier this week in USA Today, Palin said “the soul of the Tea Party is the people who belong to it, every day Americans who grow our food, run our small businesses, teach our children how to read, serve the less fortunate, and fight our wars.”

Palin added that “they have the courage to stand up and speak out. Their vision is what drew me to the Tea Party movement. They believe in the same principles that guided my work in public service.”

Neither the Tea Party Nation, the group that organized the convention, nor a Palin spokeswoman would confirm reports that the former governor is getting paid about $100,000 for her keynote appearance.

“I will not benefit financially from speaking at this event,” Palin said in a statement this week. “Any compensation for my appearance will go right back to the cause.”

In a blog post on the conservative Web site Townhall.com this past week, Palin said she looks forward to greater participation with the Tea Party movement in the coming weeks. She said she will be on hand next month for a kickoff rally for the third Tea Party Express, a cross-country bus caravan. The event will take place March 27 in Searchlight, Nevada, the hometown of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who finds himself in a tough re-election battle this year.

Palin also said she will attend an April 14 Tea Party rally in Boston.

“The process may not always be pretty or perfect, but the message is loud and clear: We want a government worthy of the fine Americans that it serves,” said Palin. “And we’re going to keep spreading that message one convention, one town hall, one speech and one election at a time.”

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. national poll released Friday indicates that Americans are split on Palin, with 43 percent seeing her in a positive light and 46 percent holding an unfavorable view.

“Opinion on Sarah Palin breaks down along party lines, with 7 in 10 Democrats disliking her and 7 in 10 Republicans with a positive view of Palin. She has a net-negative rating among Independents: 42 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “She also continues to rate better among men than women.”

Caitlyn Eubanks, 21, a Texas college student attending the Tea Party convention, said Palin is “a strong woman and she can take care of herself.”

Asked if Palin should run for public office again, Eubanks’ fiance, Brad Cornwell, a chemist who lives in Nashville, said, “I think it would certainly help her out if she would run for something and get more experience. It would get her more credence and a stronger track record.”

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