Palin makes late decision to attend GOP D.C. fundraiser

SIDELINED: Party kept her in non-speaking role to help Gingrich.

June 8, 2009 

Gov. Sarah Palin arrives at a Republican congressional fundraiser June 8, 2009, in Washington.

MANUEL BALCE CENETA / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON -- Gov. Sarah Palin and her husband appeared at a Republican congressional fundraiser Monday night, ending a will-she-or-won't-she mystery that overshadowed the event and frustrated the GOP.

Palin -- the party's 2008 vice presidential nominee who was initially slated to headline the annual Senate-House dinner -- left organizers hanging as late as Monday afternoon after she was told she wouldn't have a speaking role at the event.

It was the latest twist in an unusual public flap between the potential 2012 presidential candidate and the Republican congressional leaders who run the party's fundraising committees.

In March, organizers replaced Palin as the keynote speaker with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich after she wavered over accepting the invitation.

She hadn't been expected to attend until last week, when her advisers approached organizers saying she would be near Washington and would like to come.

The Associated Press reported that Republican officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said Palin was invited to sit at a head table but was told she would not be given a chance to speak for fear that she might overshadow Gingrich.

Palin balked at that arrangement but did not make clear whether she would refuse to attend, the officials said. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, made a personal appeal over the weekend for her to attend and invited her and her husband, Todd Palin, to sit at his table.

In March, Cornyn's committee and its House counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee, put out a news release saying she would be the keynote speaker at the dinner, which is one of the party's largest fundraisers. Palin's representatives said later that the governor never confirmed that she would speak and wanted to make sure the event did not interfere with state business.

Palin did not speak at the event, but from afar it appeared that she was one of the most popular attendees. Her table was often surrounded by people and camera flashes.

Both Cornyn and Gingrich publicly thanked Palin and her husband for their attendance.

"Thank you for your great leadership," Cornyn said. "We appreciate you very much."

Gingrich said that before the dinner, when he ran into Palin and her presidential running mate, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., he had one thought.

"I felt looking at John McCain and Sarah Palin, this country would be amazingly better off if they had been elected," Gingrich told the crowd, predicting later that the Obama administration would be a "one-term, left-wing presidency."

Gingrich's speech focused on what the GOP could do to attempt to regain a congressional majority in 2010, chiefly by offering proposals to lower taxes and focusing on domestic energy development. Gingrich ended by quoting the actor Jon Voight, who emceed the event and delivered the signature line of the evening: "Do not tell me it cannot be done," a reference to the party's effort to retake seats in 2010.

The $14.5 million raised at the event will be split between the Republican Senate and House campaign committees, which will back GOP candidates in the 2010 elections.

Palin catapulted to fame last year as presidential candidate John McCain's running mate and is widely believed to be eyeing a presidential bid in 2012. She spent the weekend in New York, where she attended a Yankees game and events on Long Island and in the upstate town of Auburn. Monday, she met with her Washington staff.


The Associated Press and Daily News reporter Erika Bolstad in Washington, D.C., reported this story.

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