Is there really anything more red than going to a Sarah Palin rally at a NASCAR speedway on the holiday celebrating the European conquistadors’ arrival in the Americas? If there is, I don’t want to know.
Palin, along with hubby Todd and country crooner Hank Williams, Jr., stopped in Richmond Monday afternoon, following a Monday morning appearance with McCain in Virginia Beach. When I heard that the event had been moved from the smaller Arthur Ashe Center to Richmond International Raceway due to overwhelming public interest, I wondered whether this might be Palin’s answer to Obama’s speech in Mile High Stadium.
As soon as Mr. Slowpoke and I exited Rte. 64, we hit a two-mile long traffic jam stretching down Laburnum Ave., the way to the racetrack. After crawling along behind lots of large vehicles with McCain stickers, we decided to stow our car on a residential street and walk a mile and a half to the rally. It was, as Mr. Slowpoke put it, "a blue solution to a red problem." Apparently not everyone was trying to get to the rally; one guy yelled at us twice from his van: "Vote for change!"
Based on reports of highly-charged emotions at McCain-Palin rallies, we decided to go the undercover route, which involved acting vaguely like McCain supporters. This meant no giving a thumbs-up to the "vote for change" guy. It also meant feeling a bit sheepish as I passed through a largely African-American neighborhood on my way to Oppressor Fest ’08.
As it turned out, the event was not held in the Raceway stadium, which would have been far too big, but in a small adjoining field. The bleachers could only hold a fraction of the crowd; by the time we arrived, which was well before Palin began speaking, there was no line to get in — just hordes of people milling outside the official event space, barely able to see the stage, if at all. The arrangement felt somewhat disorganized; I’d assumed the move to the racetrack meant most people would be accommodated. (Both the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the AP estimated the crowd to be over 20,000.)
The Straight Talk Express with Sarah inside (I saw The Bun quickly float by above the tops of those cars)
Where I was standing, people also had trouble hearing Palin’s speech. I was right in the middle of the group (the "deaf wingnuts" as Wonkette called them, perhaps unfairly — they were wingnuts, but not deaf) that began chanting "LOU-DER! LOU-DER!" to get the volume turned up. Palin assumed the chanters were haters and interrupted her speech to say "I hope those protesters have the courage and honor to give veterans thanks for their right to protest." Several supporters around me were clearly exasperated. "Is McCain too cheap to buy a good mic?" one guy wisecracked. Finally someone cranked up the PA system, and the crowd cheered.
Speaking of the crowd, no surprises there. It was overwhelmingly white; I saw maybe a handful of African-Americans. You had your standard Republican mix of mustachioed tough guys, button-down businessmen, soccer moms, and older folks.
Palin’s speech seemed fairly boilerplate, full of stuff you’ve heard before. It was inane in a (relatively) normal way, instead of the way that gins up fits of rage. There was, of course, a "DRILL BABY DRILL!" moment. The biggest crowd-pleaser of the afternoon was the Redskins jersey-wearing Hank Williams, Jr. who sang a ridiculous ditty that included lines about "the left-wing liberal media" and Palin being a "good-looking dish."
Here are a few McCain-Palin supporters bearing signage:
No change for this kid!
His hat reads "Obama, Yes We Can… STOP HIM!"
That Palin is a dingdong?
There were at least a few in attendance, however, who were not entirely down with the program:
A lone protester braves it.
Not keeping it subtle.
So the rally was not the blood-and-thunder affair I’d anticipated. In a way, I found it underwhelming — though that may have been due to where I was standing. It also didn’t seem quite as huge to me as the news reports are saying, but I’ll take their word for it.
The undercover mission concluded with this delicious chicken BBQ sandwich from the Famous Dave’s stall.