Sarah Palin spoke thrice in the Granite State yesterday, and I was at all three: a couple of hundred people in a Dover gym; a few hundred on the Weirs Beach pier outside of Laconia; and several thousand at Salem High's football stadium. She delivered the same speech, from teleprompters, with almost no extemporizing; it was the same speech -- a toned-down, safe-as-houses speech stripped of the crowd-riling attacks on Obama -- that she switched to earlier this week. She has apparently changed it today, to incorporate McCain's debate lines. I don't know yet whether the red meat attacks are back.
The "new" Palin speech is clearly a reaction to criticism from many quarters (including the Phoenix ) about the hostility brewing up in her crowds. Whether this is a permanent change in her tone, or just temporary to avoid controversy until the final debate, remains to be seen.
But it went beyond removing the harshest rhetoric ("palling around with terrorists," for example). Palin's speech yesterday stuck closely to praise of McCain (the original maverick!), an extended riff on energy issues (including, yes, encouraging the "drill, baby, drill" chant), and her interest in helping families with special-needs children.
The campaign also screened people entering the facilities, and kept out negative or potentially controversial pins, shirts, or signage. Staff and security swooped in on the few occasions when a "shouter" erupted. (In Dover, one yelled "socialists" during Sununu's warm-up, and another yelled "liar" during Palin's speech. In Salem, one yelled a William Ayers reference during Sununu's speech.)
Most of Palin's attacks on Obama in her NH stump speeches were reserved to the point of being oblique. She said, for instance, that we need a leader with various attributes, the final one being -- with emphasis -- truthfulness. She said that "we don't have to apologize for being American," which was a big applause line. And when she listed grievances on the minds of angry Americans, she ended with "unconsionable voter fraud." This last received boos in Dover, more lustful reaction in Laconia, and was left out of the speech in Salem -- where the large, hyped-up crowd might well have gone berzerk.
Some of theMcCain-Palin supporters I spoke with were clearly disappointed that the speech had left out what they consider fair criticisms of Obama. That group includes former Congressman Jeb Bradley, who is currently trying to win the seat back from Carol Shea-Porter. "They do what they feel they have to do here," he said to me after the Laconia event, referring to the absence of attacks. He was glad that she at least referenced the ACORN story, even if not by name. "It's on everybody's mind -- they're concerned about whether community organizing groups like ACORN -- that Barack Obama contributed to -- are trying to undermine our elections," he said.
"There are some people who don't like the honest record that is out there," said Greg Knytych, a Republican state senate candidate, whoalso would have welcomed more talk of Obama's suspect associations. "Call it dirty, but it's important for voters to be informed."
"They need to bring up more about the Bill Ayers connections," as well as Reverend Jeremiah Wright, said Barbara Tuttle of Alton. "That's where the hate is. We just want the truth out."
Others liked the positive speech, and pointed out that, for those in attendance... well, a wink's as good as a nod to a blind bat (as someone associated with a different Palin once said). "[Palin]'s being nice," said Ruth, in Dover, "but we all know."
"We all know what Barack Obama is all about -- we don't need her to tell us," said Shayna Walters of Dover.
I don't want to give the impression that Palin's supporters are all conspiratorial anti-Obama diehards -- or even that those who are might not also be sincerely inspired by Palin. MaryAnn Gault of Madbury seemed quite sincere about why, because of Palin, she is being politically active for the first time. There were plenty of others like her.
In any event, here are some other observations about Palin's day in New Hampshire.
--She still has a line in the speech about how McCain will end "abuses of power." Ballsy, for someone just ound to have abused power.
--There is no more reference to the "Bridge to Nowhere," not even in the five-minute bio video they showed at the Salem rally. That video did, however, repeat the claim that Alaska accounts for "twenty percent of our domestic oil," when the correct figure is more like 13 percent. The video also boasts, oddly, that "she loves integrity." More odd, when McCain chose her for the ticket, "the world trembled."
--Palin comes out with just a few waves, and one or two point-and-waves (possibly even a wink), before diving into the speech. She works off of two teleprompters, and nails it in a clean 30 minutes. She then signs autographs for 30 minutes and gets on the bus.
--She's a good speaker, and would probably be better if she wasn't so stage-managed -- and a lot better if they weren't forcing her to deliver such a dry speech. She delivers lines well (usually; she occasionally screwed up the rhythm and lost the reaction), and in fact greatly improved, over the course of the day, in delivering a drop-in line specific to New Hampshire.
--Palin gets introduced by a voice over the speakers, not by a person -- not even the person giving the intro speech. In Salem, Senator Sununu wrapped his speech by welcoming Palin to the stage, to great applause. Nothing happened for about a minute; then the speaker voice welcomed her to the stage and she came out.
--Palin does not acknowledge or thank local pols in the audience, or even the warm-up speakers. This is common practice (Biden personally acknowledges practically half the room sometimes) -- and is especially important given the election battles up and down the NH ballots in three weeks. Plus, she should be building up these contacts for NH '12. In Salem, Palin made no mention of Sununu, Congressional candidate Jennifer Horn, or Shonda Shilling, all of who had spoken and were still on the stage. She did, however, give a shout-out to four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser, who I guess is keeping Todd company on this campaign swing.
--They used Tina Turner's "Simply The Best" for her intro and outro a couple of times. Also: Shania Twain's "She's Not Just A Pretty Face." Just prior to her introduction in Dover they played Switchfoot's "Stars," which struck me as odd. A few others on the mix tape: Stray Cats "Rock This Town"; Survivor "Eye of the Tiger"; Kool & The Gang "Celebration"; U2 "Beautiful Day," and Jon Bon Jovi "Who Says You Can't Go Home."