Monday, November 23, 2009

Sarah Palin: Up close, in person and in Roanoke

About 1,750 people lined up with their books written by a woman everyone's talking about.

A fan clutches two copies of the book she hoped to have signed on Sunday. Sarah Palin was able to see everyone who waited.

Stephanie Klein-Davis | The Roanoke Times

A fan clutches two copies of the book she hoped to have signed on Sunday. Sarah Palin was able to see everyone who waited.

Sarah Palin talks with a young fan at the Barnes & Noble bookstore at Roanoke's Valley View Mall on Sunday morning during a signing session for her bestseller,

Stephanie Klein-Davis | The Roanoke Times

Sarah Palin talks with a young fan at the Barnes & Noble bookstore at Roanoke's Valley View Mall on Sunday morning during a signing session for her bestseller, "Going Rogue."

The first Sarah Palin supporter arrived at Valley View Mall on Saturday, more than 24 hours before the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate was scheduled to arrive to sign copies of her memoir "Going Rogue: An American Life."

By Saturday night, more than 500 people camped out in the parking lot, fearing perhaps that they'd miss out on the chance to receive a signature from the former Alaska governor. After all, some people had waited for hours in vain last week during an event in central Indiana.

Any fears of a similar incident in Roanoke soon proved unfounded: Palin arrived early for her 10 a.m. book-signing at Barnes & Noble, and over three and a half hours she worked her way through every one of the nearly 1,750 people who waited in line for her autograph.

The overnight campers were rewarded for their dedication, however. Palin swung by the mall when she arrived in Roanoke on Saturday night to briefly greet those who were braving the 39-degree weather for her book-signing.

Palin's Twitter account reported that the spectacle reminded her of "Alaskan camping trips-slash-tailgate parties."

More people arrived Sunday morning, and by 7 a.m. the line wound around the District at Valley View -- from Barnes & Noble, past J.C. Penney and Panera Bread to Carrabba's Italian Grill. The long wait, however, served only to build the anticipation and bond Palin's supporters. Many exchanged phone numbers, e-mail addresses or asked others to contact them on Facebook.

Sunday: More than 1,000 fans greet Palin at Roanoke Barnes & Noble

Video by Jordan Fifer | The Roanoke Times

Saturday night: Supporters line up hours in advance to see Palin in Roanoke

Video by Jordan Fifer | The Roanoke Times


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Metro columnist Dan Casey

Some of those who waited for Palin's signature wore "Tea Party" protest buttons or "Palin 2012" T-shirts. But she also seemed to draw others who were not interested in party politics so much as her personality and plainspoken manner. It's clear that Palin -- who drew 16,000 to Salem Football Stadium for a campaign rally in October 2008 -- has touched a nerve in the Roanoke Valley and other communities across the country.

"What's crazy is you walk up and down these lines, and a lot of these people aren't members of the Republican committees," Salem Republican Party Chairman Greg Habeeb said. "She brings out a different crowd. She taps into something that the Republican Party really needs to tap into."

Virginia House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, saw that enthusiasm last year, too: "This is the energy that she brought to the ticket last year. ... We weren't giving out any [John] McCain signs at my office -- because no one was asking for them -- until she was on the ticket. And then we couldn't keep them in. People were getting upset because we didn't have enough."

Palin arrived at the bookstore to a chorus of cheers and screams, moving quickly with family members from her tour bus to the music-and-movies section of the store for the signing. Small groups were ushered in, where they stood in a line that wound between shelves before stopping at her table.

Palin took only seconds to sign each book, but people were asked their names by a handler and greeted by her father, Chuck Heath. Palin made eye contact with people as well, smiling and occasionally exchanging words. Asked how she liked the Roanoke Valley, she smiled, winked and gave a thumbs-up.

The first to get their books signed emerged from the store and displayed the signatures triumphantly while those still in line cheered.

Alyssa Cordova, 23, and Virginia Mosely, 22, both of Northern Virginia, were giddy from the encounter.

"This is the best day of my life," Cordova said. "Can you imagine people turning out like this for Jack Kemp or John Edwards -- other failed vice presidential candidates? These people adore her. They love her. She's one of us. She's not this policy wonk who talks down to us and talks over us. She's a regular person."

As the signing entered its second and third hours, the scene became more surreal.

A 12-year-old Palin look-alike and an older Dale Earnhardt impersonator each obtained signed copies of the book, then lingered to see her off. Palin's mother and aunt greeted people out front of the store and even signed a few books.

Siobhan Haines of Hardy, who described herself as a "conservative liberal" with views from both ends of the political spectrum, emerged with a signed book and described Palin's appeal to her: "She's a rogue."

Tito "The Builder" Munoz, whom Palin referred to in some of her campaign speeches last year, traveled to the event from Northern Virginia and was rewarded with a personalized signature in his book.

"I'm in the book! I'm right here, page 305," Munoz said as he pointed to a passage in "Going Rogue."

Annie Lin of Salem was another who received a rare personalized signature. Lin, originally from Taiwan, spoke to Palin in broken English and handed her a note that said her son, Jerry Wu, had Down syndrome -- much like Palin's young son Trig. He couldn't stand in line overnight and be here, Lin said. Palin obliged and included Jerry's name on the cover page.

By 1:30 p.m., Palin had signed books for everyone who stood in line, including those who arrived after she started. Her family members withdrew into the store with security until the tour bus backed up to the entrance. A few dozen lingering people then cheered as she exited, waved, hugged a couple of children and then boarded the bus to the next stop in Fort Bragg, N.C.

Staff writer Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

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