I went over to the Ramada Inn near the vast Mall of America today, where the Alaska delegation is staying. There I found Alaska Republicans who absolutely adore Sarah Palin. The chairman of the delegation, Anchorage businessman Chris Nelson, says Palin is resilient, tough and often underestimated. He accuses the media of piling on with outrageous stories about her past, and thinks there will be a voter backlash against the media and in favor of Palin.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee stopped by Radio Row and told us all the same thing - that the media should be embarrassed about the way we're covering Palin, and her daughter's pregnancy.
Another Alaska delegate told us Palin's family troubles are just that - family matters - and neither relevant to the campaign nor anyone else's business.
Then I obtained a copy of the confidential "Republican National Convention Talking Points" memo that was distributed to all the Alaska delegates. No wonder they all sound the same - they were all carefully instructed to tell us the exact same thing. The memo urges Alaska delegates to "STAY POSITIVE when talking with reporters" and to emphasize that Palin "brought change and new energy to the Office of the Governor...she will bring this same new energy to the Presidential ticket." It continues with three bullet points about energy, and Palin's experience with energy resources in Alaska. And a second page tells delegates to say that Bristol Palin's pregnancy is "a personal issue for the family" and that media should "respect the family's privacy."
The memo also addresses corruption in Alaska and the challenges facing the state GOP. The best lines are about indicted U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, the dean of Senate Republicans, who's in deep trouble this fall as he runs for re-election against Democratic Mayor Mark Begich of Anchorage. That's one of the seats Democrats are confident of snatching from the Republicans in November.
Here's what the delegates are supposed to tell us if we ask about Senator Stevens:
"Ted Stevens is our guy."
"He is the only person, except Governor Palin, who can beat Mark Begich in November." (The party was considering dumping Stevens and running Palin in the primary to replace him, but obviously abandoned that strategy).
And here's the kicker:
"As long as does not receive jail time he is legally capable of serving."
Indicted? Convicted? Hey, as long as he's not behind bars, he can still proudly represent Alaska in the Senate.
Now, in the interest of equal time and fair play, I have to report that I chatted with a TV cameraman from Anchorage. He has covered Palin for about five years, and says she was absolutely, positively pregnant last spring, and he has no doubt that little Trig is really the governor's son. He, too, heard the rumors that Bristol was really the baby's mother, but he says he saw Governor Palin throughout March and April, and says unless she was wearing a fake belly to perpetrate some elaborate cover-up, she was definitely with child. He says she was certainly showing signs of pregnancy in her seventh and eighth months, even though she doesn't look it in all those photos on the Internet. That's good enough for me; he seemed quite credible, so I think we have to accept that Sarah Palin really has five kids, and that Bristol is pregnant now with what will be the gov's first grandchild.
The cameraman also described Palin as friendly, open and pleasant, and said she was always ready and willing to welcome media to her office and do interviews. Suddenly, though, he says, that's all changed. The McCain campaign has clamped down and taken control, and she's been completely inaccessible here. The TV shooter believes Palin might make a fine vice president or president someday, but says she's in way over her head right now, and is clearly overwhelmed. We'll see how she performs tomorrow night.
ODDS AND ENDS FROM THE RNC:
Denver was overrun with button vendors, T-shirt stands and the like, all hawking vast quantities of creative Obama merchandise. Here? Hardly any McCain-Palin vendors. I found one souvenir stand in the arena, with a pathetic selection, and have yet to see a single vendor on the streets outside. Where are all the souvenirs? How will I maintain my button collection? The entrepreneurs are missing the boat here, because these delegates are enthusiastic and they have money. I suppose this could be construed as evidence that there's much more of a populist groundswell for Obama than for McCain, and that the vendors just don't see a market for McCain buttons, because trust me, those guys are bottom-line only types, and couldn't care less about the politics of a candidate if he or she can move merchandise and make them some money.
The protesters were out in force yesterday, with thousands of people blocking buses, clashing with riot cops, and getting pepper-sprayed. Today, there are hardly any. But we've just been warned by the Secret Service that they have "credible evidence" that the anarchists and anti-war groups outside are planning to target the media, and that we should exercise extreme caution. We're told that they have bags full of urine and feces, and plan to fling them at us, and that they may attack "news media personnel or property." My hunch is that they're more interested in targeting Fox News or CNN than little old KCBS radio, so I'm really not too worried. Besides, maybe this is just a ruse to jaundice our view of the demonstrators.
According to the daily Gallup tracking poll, Barack Obama is maintaining the bounce he got from last week's Democratic convention, despite, or maybe because of, McCain's selection of Palin as his running mate. After Obama's speech, the Democratic nominee opened up an eight-point lead in the poll. It dipped to six points Saturday, the day after Palin's debut, but is back up to eight points today. And notably, for the first time, Obama has hit the magic 50% mark. He leads McCain, 50-42; until now, his best showing was 49-40. We'll see if the lead holds as the Republican convention gets back on track. Tonight, President Bush will address the delegates by satellite from the White House, for about eight minutes, outside of prime time. Then it will be Fred Thompson and then, Joe Lieberman, with a hot rumor that Old Joe might announce he's switching to the Republican Party. Tomorrow night, Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani will speak, and then Thursday, McCain gives his acceptance speech. All of that should eat into Obama's lead, and, barring any more Palin bombshells, I will be stunned if Obama's still eight points up by Friday.
On the other hand, we've just heard that Bristol Palin's baby daddy, high school classmate Levi Johnston, is being flown out here for his future mother-in-law's big speech tomorrow night, so that he can be part of the family portrait, and if that doesn't bring out the paparazzi and keep the Palin preggers story alive, I don't know what will...
Signing off for now...