Sarah Palin, who says the 2012 presidential election isn't on her radar, took her "Going Rogue" book tour to the biggest of the battleground states Tuesday, including a stop in the retirement community where tens of thousands of people gave her star treatment in the 2008 presidential election.
The crowd was far smaller than when she made a September 2008 campaign stop as Republican John McCain's running mate, but no less passionate for the former Alaska governor. About 700 people, some who arrived a full 24 hours before the signing, waited for Palin as country music blared. Several signs encouraged her to run for president in 2012.
When she arrived, the crowd chanted "Sarah! Sarah!" She made brief remarks _ including a gleeful "You can read my story thus far _ unfiltered by the media!" She sat down to a Fox News interview, during which there were shouts of "We love you Sarah! We love you and we want you to be president!" and, "Take back the Constitution! And the Bill of Rights!"
The Villages is a massive, heavily Republican retirement community about 60 miles northwest of Orlando that draws huge crowds for political events. About a month after McCain picked her as his running mate, a crowd that would make some college football teams envious sweated for hours in 92-degree heat to hear her speak for 23 minutes. Some waited 90 minutes for a parking space.
Palin remembered the day.
"Oh my goodness this is a blast," she said. "We had such a great time here on the campaign trail. We said, 'If we ever come back to Florida we have to make sure that we're stopping here.' There's something very special about this place. You just are all so energetic and so inspiring and encouraging."
The feeling was mutual for those waiting for a signature.
"I haven't been eating properly, I couldn't sleep last night at all. I was too excited," said Victoria Dye, 81, of Richfield Springs, N.Y., who is wintering in The Villages. Dye arrived at Barnes & Noble at 6:45 p.m. Monday planning to buy the book and return the next day, but then she saw people already lined up. "I said, 'Well, I guess I better get a chair."
Her friend went home to get the chair while Dye stayed on the sidewalk.
"She's the ultimate woman. She is an amazing human being. I like everything she says and she speaks with sincerity," said Dye, a Republican. "I know good politicians and I know bad ones. She happens to be a good one."
Linda Garrison, 59, splits her years between a house in The Villages and a home in Anchorage, Alaska. She has bumped into Palin at a used clothing store and other events back home, but still slept on the concrete to be one of the first people in line to get her book signed.
"You'd see her in there shopping just like anybody else. You see, Alaska is a different type of a state. You can pick up the phone and personally talk to the governor without too much hassle," Garrison said.
So why sleep on a sidewalk to get her signature? "It's a matter of respect," she said.
Unlike most people at the event, Garrison, a Republican, wasn't sure she wanted Palin to run for president in 2012. She thinks it might be better if she waits until 2016.
"It's very hard to defeat an incumbent, no matter what the economy is doing," she said. "It might not be her time in 2012. That might just be a little premature. She is still a young woman. I hope at some point she runs."
University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus walked through the crowd talking to people to get a sense of why they loved Palin.
"They're just angry at government and Sarah Palin to them is someone who can speak her mind and she's not part of the establishment," MacManus said. "She represents in their minds their viewpoint about what's wrong with government."
Palin also had stops in Jacksonville and Orlando.