Women stirred by Palin build political network

December 21, 2008|By Laura Olson | Laura Olson,Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Across Shannon McGinley's hometown of Bedford, N.H., this fall, women were talking about politics.

At school gatherings and Bible study groups, women who had never followed political affairs suddenly were talking about a woman like them - a conservative mother trying to balance family and career.

It started when the Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for his running mate. Now, more than a month since the political spotlight has turned away from the failed GOP ticket, some of those whom Palin attracted to the political arena are seeking ways to keep a conversation going.

This includes TeamSarah.org, a social networking site launched in September and still reportedly growing.

"It's a networking thing," McGinley said. "We didn't win New Hampshire this time, but I think the benefits of those relationships will be valuable in the future."

Palin's emergence in national politics touched a group of women who hadn't connected with earlier, generally Democratic female politicians, according to Barbara Burrell, a researcher at Northern Illinois University focusing on women and politics - women such as Jackie Siciliano, a 45-year-old New Jersey mother who calls herself conservative-leaning but open-minded. She hadn't paid attention to the election until Palin's nomination.

"When I heard her speak and I realized she's my age and was a member of the PTA, I thought she's a different kind of person and brings different experiences into the political arena," Siciliano said.

And just as Palin grabbed the attention of women focused on family and social values, organizers stood ready to rally these troops.

TeamSarah.org, boasting more than 60,000 members and hoping to top 100,000 by Inauguration Day, was started in part by a mother of five, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group that promotes involvement of women in politics. She and Jane Abraham, chairman of the SBA board, had launched the site as a place for followers to network and promote Palin's candidacy.

The Web site grew quickly, the organizers say. On the site, members created profiles, browsed blog postings, found volunteer activities and connected with other supporters.

Discussion on the Web-site can become zealous at times. Members talk about what they're doing to keep Palin's name going as well as their concerns about President-elect Barack Obama's Hawaiian birth certificate - its authenticity disputed by some persistent critics, though officials in Honolulu have vouched for it. Just as quickly, talk can shift to personal, often mom-centric, topics such as raising teenagers.

Through relationships that Siciliano built on the Web site, she has decided to get more involved and call on voters in battleground states.

McGinley, who coordinated volunteer nights and debate-watching parties through TeamSarah.org, believes these connections will be valuable in helping women meet other like-minded women.

On Nov. 5, after their candidate lost, some found a new cause in the Georgia Senate runoff that Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss faced Dec. 2. Dannenfelser worked with others in assembling telephone banks and volunteers on the ground.

With Chambliss' victory, the fall contests are mainly finished. But, for now, the team still is talking.

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