By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
Dissed by the McCain campaign last year and now by the Republican establishment, it's a wonder that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin , the 2008 vice presidential nominee, still has any national standing in the GOP. But as her East Coast tour this week—capped by a controversial appearance at the House-Senate GOP fundraising dinner last night—showed, it's not the Washington big shots she's wooing: It's her grass-roots backers outside the Beltway.
Several Washington Republicans contacted by Whispers said that Palin was quick to leave the Senate-House Dinner, apparently ignoring a line of those who wanted to meet her. (Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, in contrast, stayed late to shake hands.) "She came, she stayed the entire event, then at the end, a buddy and I headed to her table—my buddy actually set eyes on her—and then, poof, she was gone," said a GOP source with ties to House and Senate conservatives. "There were 40 people standing around her, just wanting to say hello and wish her well, and she just ran out the back door."
A big deal? Yes, for the Washington crowd that likes to control the party. "For a 'woman of the people,' she has got some learning to do," sneered the insider. "Heck, she has a whole lot to learn. And get some decent staff around her. Most of the mistakes since November are not people out to get her. They are 99 percent self-inflicted by her own staff who are simply not up to the job of effectively serving a national political figure, which is what she has become."
But should she be worried? Not if many of those same Washington insiders waiting to see her are right, because most say that Palin's base of power in the party is what we'll call the Carhartt set: working parents and suburban-rural voters way outside the Beltway who could be influential in early primary and caucus states like Iowa. "While independents and moderates don't think much of Palin, the Republican base and a variety of special interests still love her," says a former adviser to George W. Bush . "Here's why she counts," adds a former conservative aide to the Bush White House: "The grass roots utterly love her. In the world of Rush/Fox/National Review, etc., people really admire her genuineness and her conservative commitment. She's very grass-roots, and they are loyal to her." And a former aide to Ronald Reagan tells me: "She had a gut connection with the base at one point. It was instinctive. Almost tribal. She was outside D.C., normal, refreshing."
Her allies say to stay tuned because she is fast moving to take on the GOP establishment, especially Mitt Romney , who's acting like it's his turn to be the nominee.
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