Travels with Sarah

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  October 24, 2008

The excised speech disappointed many of the New Hampshire conservatives, most of whom are deeply invested in the belief that Obama is not merely the lesser choice but the evil one.

“They need to bring up more about the Bill Ayers connections," as well as Reverend Jeremiah Wright, said Barbara Tuttle of Alton, New Hampshire. “That’s where the hate is. We just want the truth out.”

“There are some people who don’t like the honest record that is out there,” said Greg Knytych, a Republican State Senate candidate, referring to the allegations about Obama’s past connections. He would have welcomed more talk of Obama’s suspect associations, too. “Call it dirty, but it’s important for voters to be informed.”

Palin did level one veiled accusation that community organizers at ACORN are trying to commit massive voter fraud. Former US congressman from New Hampshire Jeb Bradley, who is currently running to win back the seat from Representative Carol Shea-Porter, was glad for that. “It’s on everybody’s mind,” he told me after the day’s second speech, in Weirs Beach, outside Laconia. “They’re concerned about whether community-organizing groups like ACORN — that Barack Obama contributed to — are trying to undermine our elections.”

Interestingly, Palin did launch attacks during a sit-down on-camera interview with local TV station WMUR (a Manchester ABC affiliate), stressing that Ayers is “fair game.” This seems to be Palin’s modus operandi on the trail: to put verboten topics like Ayers and Wright on the table by discussing whether or not the campaign wants her to discuss them. There’s no way to tell whether this is a campaign-driven strategy or Palin’s way of creating personal distance from the sinking McCain ship (as she then did this week by distancing herself from McCain’s position on an amendment banning gay marriage). But Palin is clearly a savvy politician, and it would be no surprise if she is plotting a way to maintain her conservative following beyond a likely November 4 loss.

Looking to 2012?
If Obama wins the election, Palin must be considered one of the early favorites for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. Conventional wisdom suggests that her natural constituency is the Southern conservative Christian demographic, which is increasingly dominating the party’s nominating process.

But her road to the White House might really be launched in New Hampshire.

True conservatives have had a tough time in New Hampshire’s recent presidential primaries. But that has been, in large part, because the conservative options have been either Southern religious candidates (Mike Huckabee, Pat Robertson) or pandering rich ones (Mitt Romney, Steve Forbes) — or both (George W. Bush). Neither type connects well with New Hampshire’s conservatives.

Sarah Palin, moose hunter from small-town Alaska, sure does. She might just be the first Republican who can both woo Iowa’s religious conservatives, the way Huckabee and Robertson did, and also win New Hampshire’s more secular brand of right-wingers. If so, there may be no stopping her from winning the nomination.

Palin fits these New Hampshire Republicans better than any major presidential candidate to come through in many years, and it shows. Enthusiastic crowds flocked to her, and swarmed her for autographs. Lines to get in stretched for at least a quarter-mile at each event.

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