Given the level of excitement as Gov. Rick Perry and Sarah Palin made their entrance at Sunday’s rally, it wouldn’t have been surprising if the crowd had flung panties on stage.
Of course, the audience was more "My Country 'Tis of Thee" than, say, "Your Body is a Wonderland." Which is not to say that the whole event, a kind of ultimate SuperBowl pre-party for Perry faithful, didn’t feel like a John Mayer concert at times. It's just that Perry's supporters — who, if their signs mean anything, include the realtors, the homeschoolers, and the farmers of Texas — tend to be more inhibited than crazed tweens.
There were several thousand in attendance Sunday at Houston’s Berry Center, which is just northwest of the city and a few miles off Highway 290 along a subdivision- and mini-mall-lined boulevard. Some said they had waited for two hours to score a choice spot to glad-hand — or in the case of Palin, tearfully and exuberantly, hug — their favorite gubernatorial candidate and his guest of honor as they walked through the stadium along a cordoned-off path to the stage.
For all the emotion, though, there were no colorful outbursts upbraiding Perry’s primary opponent, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, or even President Obama by name. (Ted Nugent, who performed a testosterone-pumped version of the national anthem, must have gotten that out of his system last week). Warming up the crowd, Dan Patrick, the Republican state senator and radio talk show host from Houston, came the closest to a direct assault on Hutchison all afternoon when he counseled, “Gov. Perry will never equivocate or procrastinate or hesitate to say that Roe v. Wade should not be the law of the land.”
Perry himself, speaking before Palin, reserved his ire for “out of control” and “not the answer” Washington, D.C. That, of course, is an attack on Hutchison by proxy, which was obvious when Perry revealed his own answer: “less Washington and more Texas,” a phrase that easily encapsulates his whole campaign against her.
Amid attacks on the federal government that echoed Perry's, Palin noted that Texans, like Alaskans, “will proudly cling to [their] guns and religion.”
Whatever Keith Olbermann (who got name-checked by Perry as a “liberal media elite”) says, Palin at least knows her audience: It’s not every campaign rally where the volunteers checking your bag at the door ask if you’re carrying a concealed weapon. (Then again, maybe that was just the press line).
There was a moment, however, when the now-honorary Texan — Perry presented Palin with a plaque naming her so — could have fallen flat. She opened her speech by saying she had explained earlier to her daughter Piper, who accompanied her on stage, that Texas was “Alaska’s little sister state.” It’s a measure of her popularity that the statement drew laughter and applause, not boos, from the blood red Texas crowd.