ST. PAUL Minn. — Somerset County Commission Chairman Philip Roy, a Maine delegate to the Republican National Convention, was originally a supporter of Mitt Romney.
Roy admired the executive experience of the Massachusetts governor who won the Maine GOP caucus, and he was hoping that Sen. John McCain would choose Romney as his running mate. “As late as Thursday of last week I was saying, ‘Gosh, I hope it’s Mitt,’” Roy said Wednesday.
But shortly after McCain announced Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate and Roy learned more about her, he decided McCain had “hit it out of the park.”
“He’s really electrified the Republican base” with the choice of Palin, said Roy. That’s been very evident so far this week in the convention hall. Whenever Palin’s name has been mentioned, the delegates in the Xcel Energy Center, where the convention is being held, have gone crazy.
Roy also thinks warts and all, Palin will be the kind of candidate that Americans, especially American women, will connect with. In an advanced text of her Wednesday speech to the delegates, Palin called herself “an average hockey mom.”
“She’s a family woman. … the problems and issues her family is facing are what American reality is,” Roy said. “Families are going to be able to identify with her. People relate to who and what she is.”
Despite her relatively thin government resume, Roy believes Palin’s executive experience and record as governor are a big plus. “She’s a maverick just like John McCain. … She has a track record of being a fiscal conservative.”
“She’s a forward thinker. She’s gone against the grain and made things happen. You couldn’t ask for a better person to send to Washington.”
In her speech, Palin made direct reference to what has been written and said about her rather unconventional background as a vice presidential candidate.
“I’m not a member of the permanent political establishment. And I’ve learned quickly, these past few days, that if you’re not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone,” said Palin. “But here’s a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I’m not going to Washington to seek their good opinion — I’m going to Washington to serve the people of this country.”
Members of the Maine delegation seemed to speak with one voice about Palin’s attributes, calling her a reformer and someone who has taken on the political establishment in Alaska during her relatively short time as governor.
Maine State Party Chairman Mark Ellis said he thinks her background, experience and hobbies will be appealing to people in New England.
Her husband Todd is a champion snowmobile racer, and she is an outdoorswoman who enjoys hunting and fishing. “She’ll really connect with the people of Maine,” said Ellis.
State Rep. Josh Tardy of Newport, who is chairman of the Maine delegation at the convention, called Palin “refreshing.”
“She’s defined herself as a political reformer and that’s going to blend very well with John McCain’s skill sets and make for a very compelling ticket.”
“The more the country gets to know her,” said Tardy, “the better the momentum is going to be for the campaign.”
Palin had the chance Wednesday night to formally introduce herself to the American people and tell them her story and how she has governed in Alaska.
“She’s a compelling political personality and a very good chief executive,” said Tardy.
Most of the Republicans attending the convention don’t seem bothered by Palin’s lack of experience in security issues and international affairs and instead seem to be focused on her maverick, budget cutting approach to government. Especially the party’s conservatives believe being a Washington outsider is a plus rather than a negative.
“The bottom line is she does have experience as a chief executive when no one else on the ticket does and it’s about the overall package,” said Tardy.
“Maine voters have always prided themselves on being independent minded,” he said, adding, “Maine voters always appreciate political reformers. As Mainers get to know her, they’re going to appreciate her.”
Whatever happens in November, Roy said, “We’re looking at an election where history will be made.” And that, he said, is exciting.
Linda Killian is a professor of journalism and the director of Boston University’s Washington Center. She is working on a book on the Democratic Party and is a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.