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I spent yesterday broiling in the hot sun at Senator McCain’s Washington (PA) rally,, to see how rank and file Republicans might be reacting to his new running mate.  I know, I know. Yes, it was an ordeal. I went so you wouldn’t have to.
The venue had been arranged before McCain named his running mate, so curiosity brought out a larger crowd to see her than they had planned on. They printed 5,000 tickets. I estimate that about 9,000 showed up along with the GOP’s presidential and vice-presidential picks, several party luminaries, and assorted hangers-on. Your reporter was there to watch them and listen to them.  

While the crowd waited hours for the campaign party to arrive, a succession of GOP small fry attempted to entertain them. First up was Diane Irey. You all remember who Diane Irey is, right? The Republican county commissioner who spent $852,811 last cycle trying to send John Murtha (PA-12) home from Congress (he thrashed this challenger that November, taking 61% of the vote).

I remember seeing pictures of Irey last cycle but I must never have heard a clip of her talking, because it was news to me yesterday just how irritating her speaking voice is. It was mostly routine rah-rah pep talk that you might have heard, let’s face it, from any speaker on either side of the aisle on the campaign trail, except for one thing. Standing right there teetering on five-inch high heels, she said,

I give complete trust to only two men.
One of them died on the Cross; the other is Senator John McCain.

(Ok, I thought they were teasing us about unrealistically regarding our nominee as a savior?)  

Diane Irey had soon exhausted what she had to say. There was some country music from gay-hating singer John Rich, with a cameo appearance by a dancing dwarf who probably got the gig because of his superficial resemblance to the nominee.  Then they trotted out my favorite Pennsylvania Republican, former sportscaster Lynn Swann. He’s a pretty good speaker, but that’s not why I like him.  I like him because the local GOP pressured a well-qualified candidate out of the race in order to run Lynn Swann for governor in 2006. He took only 40% of the vote.

Swann was followed by former governor Tom Ridge. We now know what Tom Ridge’s vice-presidential stump speech would have been if McCain had selected him as running mate; I heard it yesterday. It’s entirely about Senator Obama’s inexperience in foreign affairs. Not one word about the economy or any other domestic concern, because, really, what could he say?  When Ridge alluded to Senator McCain’s habit of not necessarily always voting the Republican party line, he was met with stony silence. This was not the crowd that wanted to be reminded of that.

Finally the McCain bus arrived, about four hours after the bulk of the crowd had started to assemble. The Senator, his wife Cindy (in a scarlet dress), Governor Palin, a random sample of her brood, and Alaska’s First Dude, her husband Todd (who, according to Wikipedia, is not a registered Republican, so I feel it is officially ok for me to notice that he’s rather nice-looking).  

The presumptive nominee spoke very briefly; he knew the crowd really wanted to hear Governor Palin, so he yielded the podium to her.  Palin’s talk was identical, verbatim, down to the pauses and rhythm, to the speech she gave the day before in Ohio. So she can stick to a script. The crowd was impassive when she mentioned Geraldine Ferraro,  and, unlike the Ohio crowd the day before, booed when she spoke about Senator Hillary Clinton. They liked Palin, but the rank and file aren’t  following her on that strategic script about welcoming disaffected Clinton fans.

And then off they went, back onto the bus, leaving the sun-baked rank and file definitely favorably impressed with their vice-presidential candidate, but clearly balking on the game plan about winning Pennsylvania by being nice to Clinton Democrats.

Originally posted to Christopher Walker on Sun Aug 31, 2008 at 12:01 PM PDT.

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