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Pick of Palin energizes area GOP efforts

TAMPA — It's Friday afternoon, and the Hillsborough County Republican Party headquarters is buzzing.

While Ann Carder sits at a small desk phoning to drum up support for Republican presidential nominee John McCain, Rodney Akers assembles yard signs and Suzy Davis collects donations from people who stop by the Brandon office.

Barbara Graham walks in and requests two bumper stickers.

"Make sure they say Palin on them," she says.

Republicans from Pinellas County to Pensacola say McCain's choice of the gun-shooting-hockey-mom governor of Alaska as his running mate has ramped up Floridians' interest in the GOP ticket dramatically.

"She is a mother, a wife. She has all the good attributes that are necessary for a vice president," Graham said, adding that having Palin on the ticket made her feel particularly good about voting for McCain. "I like what's up in her head. To me, she's smart."

After Palin made her speech at the Republican National Convention, the number of McCain volunteers in Pinellas County at least doubled, said Chet Renfro, who heads the county's presidential campaign effort.

"They're just saying 'We're so elated,' " Renfro said. "Women especially. They're so gung ho. They're ready to move out and conquer the world. They say it's the best thing that's ever happened to the party, that women are finally being recognized."

The day after Palin's speech, the phone in the Hernando County GOP office got so much use, the battery died.

Newly printed T-shirts, buttons and yard signs have been flying out of campaign offices.

"It's coming at us so fast it's like drinking out of a fire hydrant," said Commissioner Mark Sharpe, co-chairman of the McCain campaign in Hillsborough County. "That's when you know you're in the middle of a phenomenon."

Fred Manno, coordinator of the central Pasco County McCain campaign, said since Palin's selection, volunteers in the Land O'Lakes office have doubled to more than 90. "Most of them are women," he said.

Among those contributing to the surge: Anne DePury, 52, a longtime Tampa Republican who never volunteered for a political campaign until after she watched Palin's convention speech Sept. 3.

"I was sitting on the sofa cheering. I was very fired up," she said.

The next day, DePury called the McCain campaign office to request yard signs.

"As I spoke to the young man on the phone, he said, 'We're going to have a lot of phone calls to make,' and they really needed volunteers," she said. "I was eager to do it."

DePury, who has two adult children and works in the family business, said she relates to Palin as a working mom who shares her Republican values. And she said she likes that Palin "tells it like it is."

"Women can relate to that kind of a woman. She just gets the job done," DePury said.

Tammi Bulovas, 45, tells a similar story about her first foray as a campaign volunteer. Since Wednesday, she has been greeting a steady stream of Palin evangelists at the McCain headquarters in Pensacola.

She describes Palin as "the female Reagan."

"Before this, I would have never voted for a female," Bulovas said. "I always thought we were the weaker power — that's just how I was raised. And when McCain announced her, I was like "Oh my gosh, what is he thinking?'

"But then I looked her up. She's just like me. I love her."

But Democrats say Palin's selection has had a positive effect on their party as well. Volunteerism and fundraising are up. In the 24 hours after Palin's speech, Barak Obama raised $10-million and Republicans pulled in $1-million, said Adora Andy, spokeswoman for Obama's Florida campaign.

"People are losing their jobs, and want to see an administration that will invest in the middle class,'' she said.

"She's more extreme than George Bush,'' Andy said. "They're motivated by the fact that it could be worse with this vice presidential choice.''

Meanwhile, Ana Trinque, chair of the Hernando County Republican Party, says in addition to attracting women, Palin has energized Republicans uncomfortable with some of McCain's moderate positions, including opposing George Bush's tax cuts and support for allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for citizenship.

"The conservative base felt as though they weren't being addressed," Trinque said. "The fact that she's a woman is wonderful. But he chose someone who's a proven leader, who has done something about tax reform and wasteful spending in Alaska."

Like most Americans, Trinque had no idea who Palin was before McCain tapped her.

"Everyone was trying to think who could he choose. The bottom line is we thought he had to pick someone that would bring us energy," she said. "We couldn't have asked for a better choice."

Times staff writers Alex Leary and Bill Varian contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Pick of Palin energizes area GOP efforts 09/12/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 19, 2008 3:55pm]

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