Palin raises $1 million over lunch for GOP

FUNDRAISER: People turn out, open wallet to see party's new star.

September 17, 2008 

WASHINGTON -- She's got their hearts, now she wants into their wallets.

Just 17 days after being named Sen. John McCain's running mate in Ohio, Gov. Sarah Palin was back in the battleground state as the newest star attraction on the GOP fundraising circuit.

The Republican vice presidential candidate made her debut as a national fundraising headliner Monday night at a country club in Canton, Ohio, met with donors at a $2,500-a-plate luncheon in a private home in Cincinnati, and then attended a breakfast Tuesday morning in Dayton. The first event raised an estimated $1 million, organizers said, a one-night take that is just shy of the $1.35 million total she raised in her 2006 bid for Alaska governor.

Between now and Nov. 4, Palin is expected to rival the appeal of other top Republican fundraising draws, such as First Lady Laura Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney. Already, the party is leaning on her, both to rally the base and encourage them to write checks. Online donations to the Republican National Committee quadrupled after McCain picked Palin. Donors are "energized and enthusiastic," said Amber Wilkerson, a spokeswoman for the RNC.

"Our party's surge in volunteers, supporters, and crowds in the last two weeks is mirrored in our fundraising," Wilkerson said.

Palin will be raising money almost exclusively for the RNC and local Republican parties where she holds the events. In between campaigning, she's expected to headline as many as 30 to 35 fundraisers between now and the election. Since the McCain campaign chose to accept public financing, it is limited to the $84 million allowed by law and cannot raise additional money.

But the RNC can, has, and will raise more money. And so will the Democratic National Committee and the Obama-Biden campaign, which has opted out of public financing. Sen. Barack Obama was in California on Tuesday night for two fundraisers, including one in Beverly Hills featuring singer Barbra Streisand.

Obama's fundraising juggernaut, which broke records with $66 million in August, will be matched by the RNC money-raising machine. So far this year, the RNC has outraised the DNC $92 million to $42 million.

The money from Palin's three Ohio fundraisers will be split between the Ohio Republican Party and the Republican National Committee, although a small portion goes to McCain's compliance committee too.

The Ohio Republican Party is happy to accept the checks, said Kevin DeWine, deputy chairman of the state party. The three Ohio fundraisers were planned well before anyone knew who would be vice president, DeWine said, but they're pleased to have Palin. They expect to see plenty of her over the next several months, since no Republican has entered the White House without the help of Ohio.

"Her announcement in Dayton two weeks ago, her performance at the convention, has served to really close the enthusiasm gap that the Democrats had in Ohio," DeWine said. "What we've seen over the past 17 days or so is nothing short of amazing when it comes to grass-roots response."

But Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, criticized Palin for failing to address voters' questions on the economy in her visits to the state, even as "America's financial markets are in a state of utter turmoil."

"Instead, she's raising money for John McCain, whose unwavering support for George Bush's economic policies has sent 250,000 good-paying Ohio jobs packing, while dragging the country to this point of near-disaster," Redfern said.

Yet Palin's appeal to Republicans is palpable in places like Wyoming, where people don't experience the once-a-week visits that voters in battleground states such as Ohio or Pennsylvania see. Palin has a Sept. 24 fundraiser that is drawing people not just from Wyoming, but Idaho and Montana too, said Maggie Scarlett, who serves with her husband as the finance co-chair for the McCain campaign in Wyoming.

"We're really talking about a regional type of excitement. We are inundated with positive reaction and response," she said. "Strictly from the sidelines, I just think that the western states are going to be very important in this election, and I just think it speaks volumes that she is coming in here. I can tell you, it has generated great excitement. And it has reinvigorated, certainly, the Republican base."

Those who've watched Palin raise money on a much smaller stage predict she'll excel at bringing in money on the national level, in part because she'll be a novelty for donors who've seen all the same faces at dozens of fundraisers this election cycle. Palin will bring a "newness and excitement," said Anchorage pollster David Dittman, who was a consultant to Palin's 2006 gubernatorial bid.

"She's a very effective fundraiser at the individual, grassroots level," Dittman said. "I think she'll do well. She connects with people, already that's pretty evident."

Dittman points to Palin's 2006 campaign, when she was nearly broke after toppling the incumbent Republican governor, Frank Murkowski. She had to start from scratch against former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles, who already had about $500,000 in the bank, Dittman said, and she had to do it without much support from the traditional GOP fundraising base in Alaska. Ultimately, she raised $1.34 million to her opponents' $1.5 million.

"She didn't have the support of the party, she did not have the support of labor unions, environmentalists, the oil industry," Dittman said. "She did it all by herself."

McClatchy correspondent Greg Gordon contributed to this report.

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