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Francine Hardaway Headshot

Sarah Palin at the Phoenix Tea Party Rally

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Needless to say, today was my first Tea Party rally. I decided to go with a few friends, because we wanted to see if Sarah Palin was anything like what we had heard or read.

The rally, which took place outside the State Capitol at noon, was in some ways predictable, and in some ways totally unexpected. These are my observations:

The crowd was smaller than I expected. I was able to get very close to Sarah Palin and take some very good pictures of her and Trig, who was with her. Trig had a rash on his face.

She's very, very pretty.

She had American flags painted on her toenails.

She has enormous performance energy. She's like an older version of a cheerleader, almost a caricature of what I had seen on TV. And she has damned good makeup.

The crowd to see her was adoring, but much smaller than I expected, and not that "into her." In other words, they were happy to see her, but they didn't mob her. Before she spoke, I was able to get quite close to her, and I handed the man next to me, who was much taller, my iPhone and he took the picture you see. I don't think she's the next American Idol.

There were five or six expensive buses parked at the Capitol, wrapped with Tea Party messaging. You can see them on my Facebook photo album. I am not sure they bespoke a grass roots movement, and I think many of the people in the Arizona State Capitol crowd were from out of town. Or maybe just from outlying areas of the Valley. "Sheriff Joe" Arpaio welcomed the out of towners.

Although there were some people with children (and dogs), the audience was mostly between the ages of 55 and 70 and almost entirely white. Well, entirely white from my perspective, although I can't claim to have seen everybody.

There were lots of vendors selling Tea Party swag -- t-shirts, books, buttons, CDs. I think they expected more of a turnout.

This was clearly a "Get Out the Vote" rally, with every speaker saying "we are only days away from taking back our country." The Arizona part of it was represented by Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce and Sheriff Joe, who were most concerned with the issues of illegal immigration, and seemed outraged that a sitting President would sue one of his own states over this issue.

Sheriff Joe began his speech with a tribute to Juan Williams and tied that in to the free speech movement and Obama's attempt to limit free speech.

The whole thing felt weird to me. It felt as if the "lamestream media" had blown something fairly small and trivial up into something more important to the cable channels than it was in real life. You wouldn't believe how many cameras were there to cover such a small rally. I've seen more people on the Capitol lawn supporting a bond election. Because I know Arizona is so conservative, I expected more support for this rally.

So far, I've tried to report this rather than make judgments that are political. I went to see it because the Tea Party is a phenomenon in American politics, and because I don't like to comment on things I haven't experienced.

But now I have a hypothesis I'd like to advance:

I think the pollsters might be very wrong about the upcoming election. And that's because they are polling the people I saw at this rally -- the people with land lines. I wonder how many of the pollsters are polling younger people, or working people with cell phones.

The people I saw today were the fearful middle-aged white people who have been outsourced, laid off, and "victimized" by diversity. They looked as if they had been outrun by the pace of change, in every area of their lives. They were familiar, like Rotarians. They clearly want things to go back to the past -- one man came riding a horse, and the Minutemen were there. Everyone talked about bringing it back to how it used to be and taking it back. Everyone prayed and talked about Christ, and recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the National Anthem. It was the old days of baseball games and hot dogs, horses and guns, and the Greatest Generation. I didn't hear anything about taxes; in fact I heard very little political content, except from the local guys.

I was probably the only geek in the place. And that says it all.