GOP Base Appears Sturdy Amid Revelations

Posted September 2, 2008 at 7:21pm

The revelation that the daughter of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is pregnant out of wedlock has done little to quell the enthusiasm of the party’s conservative base, which remains remarkably excited about her selection to be the vice presidential nominee, according to GOP leaders around the country.

In interviews conducted Tuesday, a day after it was revealed that 17-year-old Bristol Palin is five months pregnant with her boyfriend’s child, county-level GOP leaders not attending the convention in St. Paul, Minn., say that the feedback from local conservative voters remains almost exclusively positive and that little has changed since the response that greeted the announcement of Sarah Palin’s selection Friday.

The reaction suggests that, barring other damaging revelations, Palin will be able to ride out the storm surrounding the pregnancy, retaining in her column the voters most concerned with traditional “family values.”

The selection of Palin was made in part to gin up a base that lacked enthusiasm for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). It worked. GOP leaders around the country report with surprising unanimity that Palin — and as a result, the GOP ticket — is wildly popular.

“This is the most Republican place east of the Mississippi, and I’ve never seen the base so excited by a selection,” said James Wedgeworth, chairman of the Beaufort County South Carolina Republican Party. “I walked to Sunday school class and I couldn’t even get in because people were stopping me to ask, ‘How can I volunteer?’ — including people who have never volunteered before,” Wedgeworth said.

“People were very, very, very, very excited,” said Nancy Myers of the Berkeley County Republican Party of West Virginia. “Not just because of the social issues, but because they admire a woman who would tackle her fellow Republicans and ferret out corruption. She’s a handsome woman who speaks well.”

County-level GOP leaders echoed similar themes in describing why their most conservative local contacts were not abandoning Palin for suddenly facing the prospect of leading a decidedly nontraditional family.

They said conservatives in their areas acknowledge that the nontraditional is becoming more traditional and everyone knows somebody or even has family that has landed in a situation similar to Palin’s.

“No one likes that of course, but they know it happens in families,” said Deanne Dunn, chairwoman of the Lubbock (Texas) Area Republican Women. “It’s getting to be so typical of family after family.”

“This stuff happens,” said Ryan Hatcher, executive director of the Alameda County Republican Party in California. According to Hatcher, conservative areas in California are particularly hard hit by teen pregnancy.

The base is also telling local leaders that they approve of Palin’s handling of the matter, both personally and politically. They are expressing admiration for what they view as Palin’s “pro-family” response — namely the decision not to abort the child and Palin’s unabashed embrace of her daughter.

“They’re doing it exactly right — supporting the girl,” said William Chapman., chairman of the Knox County (Maine) Republican Party. “I’ve not heard one single person say [the pregnancy] is bad. It’s extremely important to make sure [Bristol Palin] comes out OK.”

Several leaders also reported satisfaction that Bristol Palin and the father plan to wed. And they note that Sarah Palin announced the pregnancy herself, even though some insist it should be a private family matter.

“She’s been very forthright — speaking about it, accepting it,” Dunn said.

Stark County (Ohio) Republican Party Chairman Jeff Matthews, who said his county includes urban, suburban and rural areas, conducted a kind of unintentional laboratory measuring the “Palin effect.”

GOP officials have just finished staffing a booth at the county fair, which ran from Aug. 26 through Monday night. Interest in the booth surged after Palin’s selection midday Aug. 29.

“People flooded to the booth and asked for yard signs and bumper stickers, asking to volunteer and saying, ‘This is it. I’m proud to be a Republican,’” Matthews said. “Seasoned volunteers were saying, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it.’”

After Monday’s revelation, enthusiasm didn’t flag, Matthews said. “I’ve gotten no negative feedback at all,” he said. “The fact is, it happens.”