McCain-Palin Rally in Anchorage is a Whole Lotta Empty Chairs, Gosh Darnit!

Once again, there were dueling rallies here in Anchorage. The McCain-Palin rally was held in the just-completed Dena'ina Convention Center in downtown Anchorage. The Obama rally was held outside, just a couple blocks away, at the Delaney Park Strip.

One would think that a Republican rally celebrating the hometown girl, in her very very red state would have drawn a huge crowd, and that the Obama rally would be nothing more than a few brave intrepid souls with a couple signs shivering by the side of the road. One would be wrong.

The Obama rally was all set up and running when I arrived -- tents, face painting, t-shirt sales, voter registration, postcard writing to swing states, a huge stage and sound system. By 1:00, there were more than a thousand people milling around with signs, kids, dogs and huge smiles. This was definitely a feel-good place. Hundreds lined the roadside waving signs to appreciative honking motorists, and hundreds more milled around the tent area. Anchorage mayoral candidate and former legislator Eric Croft got up and spoke, so did Kat Pustay who's heading up the Obama campaign in the state. Then came Ethan Berkowitz, Democratic candidate for the U.S. House seat currently held by Don Young. Ethan welcomed his "fellow revolutionaries." The crowd went wild.

I looked at my watch. I had decided to take a stroll down the block and check out what was happening with the other rally. It was after 1:30 and I knew if I didn't get to the McCain Palin rally soon, I'd never go. So I ripped myself away from all the positive energy, and hurried over to the Dana'ina Center. Three people stood outside waving signs. I figured I had to smile, so I did. "Come on in, we're having a rally!" one of them effused. I took a big cleansing breath, and in I went.

I just had a feeling this rally wasn't going to have as big a crowd as the Obama rally, because the rally that was held for Palin herself, when she was in Anchorage a few weeks ago only had about 500 people. But I walked into the room, and I really was stunned. I felt like I had just entered an empty chair convention. It was really bad. I actually felt sorry for the organizers for a minute, before I snapped myself out of it. A head count yielded about 250-300 people. Clearly they had been hoping for more.

Jack Frost, local commercial voice-over guy and conservative Republican who got trounced by Mark Begich in the last Anchorage mayoral race, was the emcee. Literally right as I sat down he was announcing the "special guest"....a phone call from Sarah Palin! Her voice was piped in over the loudspeakers, and there was a slide up on a screen showing her photo-op with Henry Kissinger. I have to say, it was a bit jarring sitting there hearing the 'giant voice' of Sarah Palin filling the room. She didn't say much. It was a bunch of "Gee, I miss you guys... I heard there were a few flakes today. I miss that weather. It's been so amazeen travelin' across this great country and meetin' people, and even Alaskans down here also as we travel across the country also meetin' people and shakin' hands... I miss you guys SOOO much."

A lady scooted up to me and said, "We'd really like everyone to be up at the front and towards the center, not all spread out." Ah...can't have the news cameras getting all those chairs. I scooted up but way over to the outer edge so I wouldn't get on film.

Then the emcee reminded us about how much Alaska would "get" if Palin was the VP, and also that our enemies hate us because of our way of life, and our freedoms, and "all they want to do is kill American soldiers." Then he said the only thing the rally was missing was "an effigy of Katie Couric." (Felt pocket for Tums....left them home.)

Next up was a local Republican house candidate, Bob Lewis, who told the crowd he had driven past "that other rally" on his way in, and how the people there were just so full of hate, and anger and fear, and that "we" (the Palin rally) were the ones having a good time. "So," he told us, "you need to decide which side you want to be on!"

That was it for me. Had to leave before all the joy was sucked out of my psyche. On the way out I noticed clip boards with the "support Palin" petition. Someone behind the table said that this was "against those people" (described as 'Obama operatives') who were smearing Palin and that "we just want to support her." I didn't sign....being an "operative" and all.

Back out into the fresh air, and down the street where Obama signs were still waving. There I was again, back at the rally of "hate, anger and fear" listening to a great local band, watching kids with painted faces dancing in the grass, smiling people registering voters, busy postcard-writers, cheering sign-wavers, and a community brought together by a shared desire to move the country in a new direction.

Clearly I was at the right rally.

Come to Mudflats for a photo gallery of both rallies.