- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 19, 2009

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. | Sarah Palin apparently had a point to make when she chose economically ravaged Michigan as the first stop on her heavily promoted book tour.

“We’re Americans. We don’t give up on each other,” she had written in the conclusion of “Going Rogue,” which shot to the top of best-seller lists upon its release Tuesday.

Breaking out in intermittent cheers of “Palin, Palin, Palin,” hundreds stood in line for hours inside the Woodland Mall for a glimpse of the former vice-presidential candidate and Republican superstar. Supporters called her a fierce defender of families with solid potential for a White House run in 2012.

Mrs. Palin arrived at Barnes & Noble bookstore at about 5:40 p.m. aboard a massive blue tour bus emblazoned with her image and the book’s cover. It was a celebrity-worthy entrance as flags waved, cameras flashed and Mrs. Palin arrived all smiles in a red blazer and black skirt to briefly address the crowd.

“I just can’t tell you how good it is to be back in Michigan,” she said, later noting the state’s comeback potential amid its tough times.

Hundreds had camped out overnight for just a few seconds with the vivacious party darling, who resigned as Alaska’s governor earlier this year.

Mary Ellen Oleniczak, a mother of six from Grand Rapids, said she understood the outpouring of interest.

“I think she’s a pioneer. She’s daring. She’s not afraid to speak out on issues that aren’t popular,” said Mrs. Oleniczak, 59.

“I am pro-life. The fact that she has a Down syndrome baby, that she had a teenager that struggled — we all do. We can all relate. I don’t know that I think she is strong enough to be president — yet. But I think that she can take a leading role and who knows what the future holds for her.”

Mrs. Palin’s book tour capped several days of press appearances, including interviews with Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters. Her former running mate — Sen. John McCain — also turned to the press during this time to defend some of his campaign staff who are criticized in Mrs. Palin’s book.

“There’s been a lot of dust flying around in the last few days and I just wanted to mention that I have the highest regard for Steve Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace and the rest of the team … and I appreciated all the hard work and everything they did to help the campaign,” said Mr. McCain, according to Reuters news service.

Still, the senator from Arizona said he was proud of Mrs. Palin and the campaign she ran. “It’s pretty obvious that she has a substantial base and interest out there,” he said.

At the Grand Rapids bookstore, Palin fans moved quickly past a table where she signed her name several inches tall in flourishing cursives of — big “S” and big “P.”

One man threw up his hands and cheered as he came down the store’s escalator, his books hoisted high in triumph. “I’m not drunk. I’m just tired,” he said as a slew of media cameras captured his exuberance.

Those waiting outside the store were festive and orderly, eagerly clutching copies of the book as the lines grew throughout the day. Some had camped out all night at the bookstore.

Debbie Apsey, 57, awoke at 4 a.m. to travel to the Grand Rapids-area mall to get a wristband to have Mrs. Palin sign her book. She said that she is not a morning person, but that Mrs. Palin is worth the wait. Mrs. Apsey has a message for the former Alaska governor.

“I want to say, ‘Honey, keep going. Stand strong. It’s going to a hard road ahead. Don’t let ‘em take you down.’ ”

The bookstore, located in the city’s Kentwood area, had braced for massive crowds. Organizers handed out wristbands starting at 7 a.m. Wednesday on a first-come, first-served basis. Reporters gathered in the bookstore’s cafe alongside locals who were seen browsing through Mrs. Palin’s book and talking about politics.

Brian Hilbrand, 22, of Grant, Mich., said he was among many state residents looking for a job. He was touched that Mrs. Palin chose the economically ravaged state to launch her book tour.

“For her to go off the beaten path and come here is good,” he said. “I think she is going to give hope to a state that is troubled financially.”

He said he shares the former governor’s political platform.

“I think government has grown too powerful, too big and is trying to run everything we do,” he said. “I’m glad she’s standing up for that.”

Mrs. Palin’s book sparked a lot of interest and heavy dissection by journalists and politicos as they feasted on details from Mrs. Palin’s early life and her personal account of her role in the 2008 presidential election.

Grand Rapids, in the western part of the state, is a heavily Republican territory in the mostly Democratic state. Mrs. Palin writes in the book that the title refers to her disagreement with the decision by Mr. McCain to pull campaign resources out of Michigan and cede the state to Mr. Obama.

Julie Straley, a mother of three from Muskegon, said she hoped Mrs. Palin would make a run for the White House in 2012.

She said Mrs. Palin’s message of honoring the family is key to her success and that she sets a fine example of having the courage of one’s convictions for her daughter.

“She is standing up for good values — not Democrat or Republican — but good values,” Mrs. Straley said. “I think she has a wholesome presence, but she is made out to be controversial. I think the fact that she’s not going to trade her values just because she’s in the spotlight shows that she would do a lot of good for our country. I think the fact that she is so involved with her family and that is important to her makes her very grounded.”

• Andrea Billups can be reached at abillups@washingtontimes.com.

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