Watching the Palin Watchers

The eastbound traffic on Highway 264 was sprinkled with McCain/Palin bumper stickers as I wove through traffic on my way to Greenville, NC, Tuesday afternoon. Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin was to speak at East Carolina University, my alma mater. I wasn't going in order to see her speech, which was roughly the same one she delivered yesterday morning in Florida. I was heading there to watch the crowd and the media covering the event.

Minges Coliseum was the site of the speech. I wrangled a press credential for the event, along with fellow North Carolina blogger Lorie Byrd. The media were set up with the television press and photographers on an elevated platform directly across from the stage, but below the crowd gathered on the second level of stadium seating. Those of us in the local print media were packed into a section of the floor-level bleachers with unforgiving hard plastic seats amid a tangled jungle of snaking extension cords. I set up on the end of the row near the top of the bleachers. From there, I could oversee all of the press row set, from the tables set up in the front for the national media traveling with the campaign to the two small rows for local radio wedged in between our bleachers and the television media platform. I had an unobstructed view of the stage and the media.

Perfect.

As the crowd began to fill Minges, I recorded events as they happened.

5:42 PM The crowd has been filling steadily since at least 4:00 PM when I arrived, for a speech scheduled to begin at 7:05 PM. Lorie Byrd said people started arriving at 11:30 AM, and some in the SRO (standing room only) area in front of the stage came in at 3:30 PM. Security was reasonably tight at the media gate, with sniffer dogs to check out journalists' equipment bags, and the infamous "wand" to check them for metallic objects.

6:00 PM It is a full hour before Palin's speech, and the crowd is almost to capacity. The event schedule is already 15 minutes behind -- some sort of technical difficulties on the stage. Emcee Henry Hinton announces that Gov. Palin's plane just entered NC airspace. It appears she'll come straight from the airport to the stage. I hope she's prepped.

6:05 PM Local minister doing invocation, calls "other side" liars, prays "Lord God, shut their mouths." Ouch. He compares Palin to Esther in the Bible.

6:12 PM The crowd is fired up and loud. Very little foot traffic now; everyone with tickets must be in their seats. Minges seems packed as they load up an Elizabeth Dole campaign video. The media seems bored by the video. I am, too.

6:17 PM The local politicians do their version of a warm-up. State Senate candidate Preston is speaking, crowd is fired up in spite of, not because of, her speech, as Preston retells McCain's biography. Crowd starts chanting "Palin! Palin!" while shaking purple and gold (East Carolina school colors) pompoms.

6:22 PM Barack Obama is mentioned directly for the first time, and ritualistically booed.