Kevin Clifford / Special to the sun
Saturday, Oct. 25, 2008 | 2 a.m.
The mood at September’s rally for Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin was electric, near fervent.
The crowd of 5,000 in Carson City shouted out “Sarah!” They hung on her every word. They offered earsplitting applause, even to a speech nearly identical to the one she had just delivered at the Republican National Convention.
Palin’s rally in Reno this week, just over a month since her first Northern Nevada visit, was different.
The fire department estimated the crowd at 3,000, but it felt smaller in the cavernous Reno-Sparks Convention Center, which holds 10,000. The crowd still clearly loved her — as at Sen. Barack Obama’s rallies, much of the preaching is done to the converted — but it did not pop with the same energy that was so palpable in September.
It’s something that’s happening across the country.
“Whenever someone new hits the political scene, there’s an initial burst of interest and excitement,” said Michael McDonald, an associate professor who specializes in elections and voting at George Mason University.
McDonald argues that when a new person emerges on the national stage, voters project themselves onto him or her.
“We take all our hopes and aspirations and think the politician shares them,” McDonald said. “It’s inevitable we’ll be disappointed when we find out there’s only one person just like you. It’s you.
“As people get to know her, expectations and enthusiasm come down.”
Palin has fired up the conservative base, which had been cool to Sen. John McCain, McDonald said. She has also been a drag on the ticket, turning off moderates and independent voters.
Charlene Bybee, 54, a flight attendant from Sparks, went to the rallies in Carson City and Reno and recognized the shift in the mood.
“People knew in Carson City that was her first appearance by herself,” she said. McCain’s pick of Palin “reinstilled my faith in the campaign. It was new energy, a fresh face.”
But now is not a happy time to be a McCain supporter.
There are depressing poll numbers, stories of political backbiting from McCain advisers, uneven television interviews by Palin. And those began before the news was filled with reports of the Republican National Committee’s $150,000 investment in Palin’s and her family members’ wardrobes.
“Most of us are exhausted,” said Bybee, who volunteers with the McCain campaign. “We’re tired. She’s been beat down by the media. We’ve been beat down by the media. We’re tired of fighting the big money out of Hollywood.”
She said Obama “has no experience. We don’t know who he is. Most of us are nervous. We’re scared to death.”
She said the difference in mood between the two events also lends itself to the seriousness of the time.
Not that the “lipstick on a pig” comment by Obama, which Republicans claimed was an attack on Palin, was completely forgotten. But the economic crisis and plunging stock market have overshadowed other events.
“We can’t be cheerleaders now,” Bybee said. “We’re the team now on the field.”
Still, she was proudly wearing a shirt that read, “I am Sarah Palin.”