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Sarah Palin in Burlingame, Calif.

palin-carson.jpgI am freshly returned from a Sarah Palin fundraiser in Burlingame, California. Thank-you to the readers who donated in my name, both the nameless first (who, the campaign insists, is called Joann, and is my wife) and the second. I have stopped in a Palo Alto cafe to tap out an observation or two.

First? A smash, despite the many broadminded protesters outside whose homemade placards decried “Geezer & Gidget.” The original notion for northern California was to have an intimate event in the Woodside, Calif., backyard of a certain technology titan. (Not, regular readers should note, that of my own employer.) But in the event, far, far too many Silicon Valley Republicans wanted to pay $1,000 a plate to hear from Sarah Palin. I received a call last week letting me know that the high-priced event would now be held in a ballroom. And it was going to remain high-priced. Happy tidings. In conversation with various attendees, it unraveled to me that the profusion of California conservatives—who are in truth mostly libertarians—is not new; these are dormant Republican voters activated by either the simple goodness of the Governor of Alaska or the increasing feeling that the vaporous, vacant, “imperfect vessel” Barack Obama is a cipher hiding quite poisonous views.

So what played to this audience? What caused genuine applause? Well, one line, in particular: near the end of her twenty-minute speech, Sarah Palin told the audience that out on the hustings one comment from supporters has dominated, in frequency, all others: tell people about the real Barack Obama. She said this quietly, without drama. But: thunder, hoots, an ovation. It was the one real firework in her stump speech; yet from the cadence of the speech one could tell that it was not intended thus. Audiences know that standing up for one particular line in a political speech is reserved for positive lines—lines that honor someone, or declaim some principle, or express some affirmation, or promise some victory. Rarely are audiences moved to bolt from their chairs over a negative line. (They’re more likely to boo affectedly.) But Mr. Obama’s guile has created considerable resentment—so much, in fact, that even a flat recitation of his positions, with not a drought of oratorical flare, dazzles and refreshes and fires an audience.

Sarah Palin spent some time piquing the newsmedia, and thanks to a zealous tablemate who initiated them the New York Times earned decidedly unaffected boos from the Silicon Valley audience. But you understand that if the newsmedia were doing their job, it would not be enough for a political candidate merely to mention the opinions of her opponent. Some argument would be necessary. Not so, not so with Barack Obama. The free pass he has been given is felt—and felt widely. In the final analysis I suspect this will make the man’s candidacy weaker, not stronger. It leaves him vulnerable, qual piuma al vento, to a late-October truth-squad attack.

There was, otherwise, little new in the stump speech. It was the same one given yesterday in Southern California (photo above) and reported on by the Associated Press, which dribbled into its dispatch some surrogate outrage because Mrs. Palin mentioned Barack Obama’s relationship with a violent left-wing terrorist who once intrigued the bombing of the Pentagon. And portions of Mrs. Palin’s speech today were recycled from the Republican National Convention in St. Paul last month. That, at least, is a letdown: Barack Obama today had a fresh stump speech that made able parry to yesterday’s Palin event in the Los Angeles area. The McCain campaign is utterly unable to work as efficiently as that. But my sense was that few donors got that feeling: the excitation of Sarah Palin overshadowed easily any sense one might otherwise receive that the momentum is shifting away from John McCain.

And why not? The crowd of 25,000 she elicited yesterday is proof that Sarah Palin is attracting new voters. And today was further evidence of her effect: a ballroom flush with self-made men and women who, though accustomed to living the dreary life of a permanent political minority, now feel there’s someone for them, too. They see Sarah Palin as a political Ghostbuster singularly able, by dint of her background, her charm, and her cool, to suss out the spectrous Barack Obama, holding him up for everyone to see. She should, soon.

OH, BY THE BYE: The afternoon netted well in excess of $2 million.

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