If you can use the weather as a way to measure a political candidate’s popularity, it appears Sarah Palin is pretty popular, at least in these parts.
Saturday in Fort Wayne was cold by Fort Wayne standards. But at 11 a.m., people started lining up outside the unlocked doors to Memorial Coliseum, where they obediently waited outside in the damp wind for a chance to see the Republican vice-presidential candidate.
By 4 p.m., the number of people formed what was probably the longest line Fort Wayne has ever seen. Standing three and four abreast, men, women, the middle-aged, teens and even a few kids, almost exclusively white, formed a column that snaked back and forth in front of and along the sides of the Coliseum, a winding column probably half a mile long.
“She’s worth it, and the people are nice,” shouted one woman.
When the doors finally opened at 4:07 p.m., it really didn’t shorten the line much. People flooded into the building and up the stairs, where everyone had to pass through metal detectors, most were checked again with a wand and some were even frisked a third time.
Nearly four hours later, as the Coliseum slowly filled up and as Hank Williams Jr. and various politicos tried to warm up the crowd, Congressman Mark Souder noted that the program had been delayed a bit. Most in the crowd thought it started at 6:30 p.m. Some thought 7:15. Now it was past the scheduled starting time, and thousands of people were still standing in line outside the Coliseum, waiting to get in.
Much of the delay had to do with the meticulous security. One young man who was waiting for a friend described it as “like the airport, times 100.”
But no one seemed to mind the wait. At least, no one was complaining out loud, and if anyone was, the media wouldn’t know. They were all confined to a fenced-in area on the Coliseum floor across from the podium where Palin would speak, so access to members of the public was restricted.
The wait didn’t appear to dampen people’s enthusiasm much. Oh, the politicos’ speeches drew what could be regarded as polite cheers from the crowd, but with practically every seat in the place filled, including the nose-bleed seats next to the ceiling, and with the arena floor packed with people with VIP passes, even a polite cheer was loud.
There’s something about Palin. She draws crowds, huge ones. McCain, one Danish TV reporter who is following the campaign said, draws maybe 2,000 when he has a rally. Those numbers pale compared with the ones Palin pulls in.
The rally also drew a cross-section of the Republican faithful. Some say she was supposed to win middle-aged female voters, but some say she’s actually gathering middle-aged men. Saturday, she also drew plenty of young people and plenty of women, more women than men, it appeared.
And it was Palin who got the real cheer, that deafening roar that big crowds put out, when she finally marched down an elevated walkway to the podium. The introductory cheers she got before she ever began to speak, and the one she got when she asked, in so many words, whether Hoosiers would give her and John McCain the job, were the loudest.
Somehow, though, one didn’t sense frenzy in the crowd.
Frenzy is fun. It swirls around you and sucks you in; your face turns red and you find yourself screaming, and when it’s all over you’re still saying, “Oh wow, man.”
Maybe people were just tired. They had, after all, stood in line for hours.