The Magazine

Rising Stars of the GOP

A surprisingly upbeat group at the governors' conference.

Nov 24, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 10 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Sarah Palin was not scheduled to arrive for another 30 minutes, but by 9 A.M. last Thursday more than a hundred journalists from around the world had gathered in a large ballroom at the InterContinental Hotel for a chance to ask her a question. Palin had been at the hotel the previous day, to tape interviews with Wolf Blitzer and Larry King. Everywhere she went in Miami a media caravan followed close behind, hoping for an impromptu question-and-answer session--something the McCain campaign leadership had not permitted her during the campaign.

For political reporters, Palin remains something of an enigma. The soap opera of the McCain campaign and the prospect of a future in national politics combine to make her one of the most interesting political stories going. So almost without exception those of us gathered for Palin's first postelection press conference were eager to hear her.

The exception, seated to my right, was a young producer for "W Radio," a Spanish-language network that covers news in 22 Latin American countries and the United States. She explained that had she gotten rolled by her male colleague into covering this, the second-most important event in the Miami area that day, so that he could cover "the show" at the Fontainebleau Hotel. When I asked what that event was, she looked stunned. "Are you kidding me?" she asked in a thick Spanish accent that accentuated the question. "Victoria's Secret. You do not have someone covering the show?" Utter disbelief. I told her it was an oversight I would be sure to correct next year. She seemed relieved.

Moments later, 13 male governors walked briskly into the room, up a handful of stairs, and onto a beautifully constructed stage paid for by the organization hosting the meeting, the Republican Governors Association. Along with them was Palin, sporting a black miniskirt and a black leather blazer. As she walked in, dozens of cameras began to click in unison. The men took their places on stage--to the right and left of the podium. Opposite them stood risers with nearly 30 television cameras ready to capture every last word of the coming exchange, and in front of the risers were rows of print journalists poised to take copious notes.

Governor Rick Perry of Texas, the current RGA chairman, took the podium and introduced Palin by noting that she represents the best of Republican leadership at the state level. Finally, Palin stood at the microphone and opened the floor to questions.

And just under five minutes later, it was all over. Four questions. ("Are you f--ing kidding me?" two reporters in my row said at almost precisely the same moment.) There was general agreement among the journalists gathered to hear her that Palin did not "make news," by which reporters mean she did not make any major mistakes or say anything controversial.

With the press conference concluded, the male governors, none of whom had been asked a question, were cleared from the stage like props. On my way to the grand ballroom for Palin's big speech, I looked for a restroom. I ran into nine of the governors as they emerged from some back hallway to hit the head. I joined them.
The bathroom was crowded. The first governors claimed the spots--two at urinals and two in the stalls, doors open. Perry was just behind me, along with several other governors. He did not wait quietly.

"Oh, Hoeven! I'm not shaking your hand when you're done," he shouted to North Dakota governor John Hoeven who was wrapping up in a stall. "This is not the Minneapolis Airport!"

Someone else noticed Alabama governor Bob Riley in the other stall. "Wow, Riley really has a wide stance!"

Perhaps more interesting than what they said, was what they did not. Although several would later grouse privately about their role at the press conference, there was no Palin bashing in the john.

In the main ballroom, Palin began her speech with some self-deprecating humor--noting how much has happened since she saw her colleagues last spring. "I had a baby. I did some traveling. I very briefly expanded my wardrobe. I made a few speeches. I met a few VIPs, including those who really impact society, like Tina Fey." Her speech included a look back at the McCain campaign and some very gracious words for the man who had chosen her as his running mate. She spent some time making the case, as many did over the course of the three-day meeting, that Republican governors would be the center of power in the GOP for the foreseeable future.