Sarah Palin, Superstar, Rocks Conservative Faithful

William Temple, one of 11,000 attendees of CPAC, came dressed as a Revolutionary War officer. CPAC is said to be the largest annual gathering of American conservatives.

Sarah Palin fired up thousands of conservative activists who came to hear her give the closing speech of the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, D.C. this weekend.

Palin hasn’t held elected office since she resigned as Alaska governor in 2009. But at this gathering of 11,000, she was an A-list star. The wind-up included a video montage of her greatest hits and tributes, and an introduction by NRA Executive Director Chris Cox.

“Does anybody here love Sarah Palin?” Cox asked, getting a loud cheer. “Now, if I walked out there and asked 100 of you why you love Sarah Palin, I’d probably get 100 different answers.”

He suggest a few but barely mentioned her stint as governor of Alaska. Even her run for the vice-presidency, which first put her on the national stage, is not her claim to fame now. Instead, the introduction focused on her superstar clout, her ability to raise the profile of far-right candidates like Ted Cruz of Texas, who says he owes his seat in the U.S. Senate to her. Her celebrity, and how she uses it, is itself celebrated.

Then Palin took the stage, and for 45 minutes, she slammed President Obama and all he stands for, as well as mainstream Republican members of Congress who she says ran from the fight. The crowd rose to its feet over and over. Some fans, too far away to see the stage clearly, took pictures of the room’s video monitors  when her face came  on the live feed.

Way in the back, one hand waved a tri-corner hat in approval. William Temple, of Brunswick, Georgia, came dressed head to toe as a solder from the Revolutionary War.

“I LOVE Sarah Palin,” he gushed. Temple admitted he had an ulterior motive for coming to the gathering. He wants Palin to sign the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag he carried into the convention center on an 8-foot flag pole. He’s been trying for years.

“They spirit her out of the room every time I get close. They secrete her out of the room. And I understand that. But yes I desperately need her signature on my Tea Party flag,” he said.

Chelsey Riehl, a student from Grand Rapids, Michigan, says she appreciates Palin’s frankness, her lack of filter.

“I think she definitely has more passion than other people and doesn’t really hold back on her opinion. And I think that’s part of the reason why some people do look down on her, but why so many other people really enjoy her as well,” Riehl said.

But Palin’s speech left Anna Chapman of Columbia, South Carolina, skeptical. Chapman says it was funny, in a late-night comedy kind of way.

“I don’t think she made a whole lot of sense, though. I’m going to be honest. I love her. I think she’s a good role model, a good face for the Republican Party. But I just think she sounded a little too kooky,” Chapman said.

Judging by the crowd reaction, it seems hers was minority view.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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