After months of suspense, and after the other Republican hopefuls hired staff, began campaigning and participated in seven debates, Sarah Palin finally announced last week she wouldn't be running for president after all. Upon hearing the news, Michelle McCormick and a few of her friends did what you too would have done if months of work had just gone swishing down the drain. They went to the bar.
McCormick is a 28-year-old oil and gas industry worker who, until last December, had never been involved in politics. But she was one of a small group who began campaigning for Sarah Palin in Iowa in March, part of nationwide, all-volunteer effort called Organize4Palin, which isn't directly affiliated with Palin's official PAC. (Real Clear Politics wrote about their efforts back in July.)
At the time that article came out, McCormick had been campaigning for Palin in Iowa for four months. She told RCP's Scott Conroy that she was spurred to action by Palin responding personally to a letter McCormick wrote to her: "If she was willing to take the time to respond to somebody who is a nobody in Texas, that just shows me what kind of heart she has."
In addition to not being a paid Palin staffer, though, McCormick also isn't an Iowan. She lives in Fort Worth, and had been spending her weekends traveling to the Hawkeye State.
At the end of July, she was granted a leave of absence from her boss to go to Iowa and volunteer full-time. She and Peter Singleton, the state coordinator for Iowa, were "the only out-of-state folks," she said. "It was fun. We kind of stationed ourselves out of a Days Inn in west Des Moines, and we just tried to live as cheaply as possible because we were all doing this on our own money. We would stay sometimes in volunteer's homes all over the state."
But despite being quoted in the RCP article, McCormick wasn't eager to be in the spotlight for most of her time in Iowa, and she has politely declined several interview requests over the last few months. "I don't want to become the story, so to speak, and notwithstanding this interview with a national magazine, I want to try to be as unassuming as possible," she wrote to us in July. "Just being a volunteer."
But in late September, she did tell Unfair Park she thought Palin would still decide to run, and that O4P Iowa, as well as other states, were "still pressing forward with our grassroots ground game." In the process, she went to all kinds of campaign events and met a host of Republican candidates: Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich. "It was neat on a pure nerdy level to get to meet all these people," she said. " And especially going to the straw poll. It's like a political carnival."
McCormick even met her non-candidate of choice a couple times at volunteer-organized events. "She was exactly how she is, whether she was on TV or just with a couple people," McCormick said. "She's an incredibly gracious lady."
But McCormick "figured something was up," she said in an interview last week, after a September 27 interview Palin gave to Greta Van Susteren. "She seemed off her game," McCormick explained. Palin told Van Susteren that she wondered, "Somebody like me -- is a title and a campaign too shackle-y?"
On October 5, Palin announced definitively that she wouldn't run. During an appearance on the Mark Levin show, she said, "Not being a candidate, you are unshackled and able to be even more active," adding, "I look forward to using all the tools at my disposal to get the right people in there who have a servant's heart."
"It seemed she was ready to jump in, but then she did a last-minute [family] poll, and two of the kids gave a no," McCormick said. "She decided to be a mom at that point and not run for it. I really respect that. My God, I bet the full brunt of the nastiness would have fallen on Willow, considering what Bristol when through last year."
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Upon hearing the news, McCormick, Singleton and three other O4P folks headed to "a local watering hole" in Des Moines. "We shared a couple drinks," McCormick said, and talked about the "roller-coaster" they've been on for the last six months. "We've had a good time," she added. "Nobody regrets doing this. I know some people wanted to tag us as a Palin fan club, but that's not the objective of this. It was to get people who had never been involved in politics before to go out and engage voters, go to GOP events, talk, and get involved. I hope that doesn't go away."
Last Friday, McCormick began her drive back to Texas. "I know a lot of folks who are supporters who are disappointed and upset," she said in a call from the car. But she and other O4P volunteers have instead chosen to "stay engaged and organize around a different mission." They expect Palin, if she follows what she did in the 2010 elections, will come out with a list of candidates she's supporting. "Organize 4 Palin has developed a little bit of muscle in our respective areas, especially in Iowa," McCormick said. They're planning on using that muscle to campaign for Palin's chosen candidates. "They have no intention of taking their ball and going away," she said.
McCormick was planning a stop in Oklahoma to see her family, she said, and then was headed back to work again."I'm not mad at Governor Palin," she said. "I have always respected her as a person and as a politician." As for herself, she said, "It'll be nice to have some consistency. There were so many highs and lows during all of this. Instead of a roller coaster, it'll be more like a straight road."