Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Sarah Palin at the Tea Party - a storm in a half-empty teacup - UPDATE

The Teabaggers are not a very happy bunch.

Mother Jones reports:

Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips likely assumed that scoring a dinner speech by the former Alaska governor and GOP vice presidential candidate would guarantee a huge turnout for his National Tea Party Convention, scheduled to start Feb. 4 at Nashville's Gaylord Opryland Hotel. But according to Tea Party insiders, the tickets for the Palin banquet aren't selling—and some conservative activists who have already paid to attend are now demanding refunds. With the controversial event shaping up to be a potential flop, some Tea Partiers are urging Palin to cancel her speech to avoid a humiliating public relations disaster.

According to internal convention planning documents obtained by Mother Jones, Palin will be paid $115,000 to address the attendees—as they dine on steak or lobster. To some Tea Partiers, this lavish affair sounds suspiciously like an exclusive GOP fundraiser and a betrayal of their grassroots movement. (In mid-January, Palin told Fox News' Bill O'Reilly that she will not profit from her appearance at the convention, suggesting she would donate her speaking fee to Republican candidates. But she has not provided any details on that, and a Palin spokesperson did not respond to requests for clarification.)

Anthony Shreeve is an activist in Dandridge, Tenn. who quit the convention organizing committee over the expensive ticket prices. He says he has it on good authority that most of the approximately 500 speech-only tickets have not been sold. Shreeve adds that Phillips "isn't going to sell any more," and says other would-be attendees have been demanding—and receiving—refunds. Late on Tuesday afternoon, I tested his claim by attempting to buy 10 tickets to the dinner. If I’d been prepared to shell out $3,587.10, that would apparently have been no problem. "I really hope that Sarah Palin doesn’t come to this event because it's going to be really embarrassing for her to walk into a half-empty room," says Shreeve.

According to the internal Tea Party Nation documents, organizers were depending on Palin’s speech to lure a much larger crowd to the banquet in order to turn a profit. Based on cost estimates used by the organizers in the planning documents, if 1,100 people attend the banquet (600 of whom would also attend the convention), the event would cost the organizers about $401,200, including Palin's $115,000 speaking fee. If all the tickets are sold—both the $549 all-access tickets and the $349 dinner-only tickets—Phillips' group would net about $102,700. But if few of the banquet-only tickets are sold, the organizers are likely to end up seriously in the hole, depending on how much the group had to pay in advance to the hotel, which is charging $120 per person for the dinner. Shreeve observes, "It wouldn't surprise me if [Phillips] ends up filing for bankruptcy the day after."

Will she or won't she? Sarah Palin has pulled out of other events at the last minute, so it wouldn't be out-of-character if she pulled out of this crazy tea party. With only one week left until the event, we won't have too long a wait to find out. Of course, the organizers could give away the unsold tickets:

Tami Kilmarx, a nurse in Nashville who also resigned from the Tea Party Nation convention planning committee after falling out with Phillips, believes the convention may ultimately "completely disintegrate." She says that Phillips has been urged to give away remaining tickets to Palin’s speech to head off the embarrassment of having the former vice presidential candidate speaking to a half-empty room.

Or Sarah could ask her friend Dr Cathy Baldwin-Johnson to provide her with a sicknote:

Given all the negative publicity, Shreeve is surprised Palin hasn’t pulled out already. "In her contract she is allowed to send a representative if she can't make it if she's sick or something. Maybe she’ll come down with the flu," he says with a laugh.

Let's wait and see...

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