BLOOMINGTON, MINN. — California Republicans are outnumbered. Their president is unpopular. But as they arrive here for the GOP national convention, John McCain has given them a jolt of excitement by choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.
"She is a hero for us," said Mike Spence, head of the California Republican Assembly, whose members are among the most the state's conservative voters. "She took on the Republican sellouts who just want to hold onto power."
Spence, who initially backed Mitt Romney's candidacy, figures he and McCain are in accord on maybe 80% of the issues.
But on Friday, Spence was in the hotel banquet room with the Council on National Policy, the influential group of religious and other conservatives, when Palin's selection was announced. Like others there, he stood and applauded. "This energizes disaffected Republicans," Spence said. "This is exactly the message of change that was needed."
California's Republican Party long has been split into conservative and moderate factions. Moderates tended to embrace McCain. Conservatives were critical. Whether the state's most conservative Republicans would fall in line behind McCain had been in doubt. Not now, though, with Palin on his ticket.
Several delegates cited Palin's decision to have a baby, 4-month-old Trig, knowing he had Down syndrome.
"We have a lot of pro-life rhetoric," said delegate Tom Bordonaro, the San Luis Obispo County assessor. "She has been there and made the choice. She made the choice for life."
Delegate Miryam Mora, 26, will be voting for the first time in November, having gained citizenship a few months ago. Mora grew up in El Monte, the daughter of migrant farm and garment workers, and was the first in her family to graduate from college.
She is taking leave from her job to volunteer full-time for McCain. When McCain selected Palin, Mora became more certain that she had made the right choice in supporting the Republican ticket. "I'm so amazed by her story," she said, noting that Palin is a mother of five, was involved in the PTA and "took on her party" by running against Gov. Frank Murkowski.
Her decision to have Trig affected Mora too: "She was faced with a decision of having an abortion, and she decided she was going to be there for him. . . . It shows a lot about her character."
As the Republican National Convention opens, many of the 343 California delegates and alternates originally backed candidates other than McCain.
But they said their objections to Democrat Barack Obama provided the glue that united them behind their soon-to-be nominee.
Former Gov. Pete Wilson, who started out supporting former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, headed into the convention confident.
"It is a combination of enthusiasm for John McCain and the prospect of an Obama administration that is, to say the least, sobering," Wilson said. "It scares the hell out of people, rightly so."
California delegates saw a potential gain, but also some risk, in McCain's selection of Palin.
Wilson lauded the choice, saying that although Palin lacks foreign policy experience, "she is a very gutsy young woman willing to take on special interests . . . [and] corruption, even when it was in her own party."
In 2003, after Palin was appointed to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, she led an ethics investigation against a fellow panelist, the state Republican Party chairman, who later admitted to violations.
Some analysts contend that Palin's inexperience could undermine the McCain contention that Obama lacks the experience to lead the nation. Democrats have wasted no time citing her limited world travels and tenure in office -- she took office in 2006, and Alaska's population is less than one-fourth that of Orange County.
But California delegates who are Palin fans brushed that issue aside, saying that she has balanced state budgets and vetoed bills.
"If they want to put a spotlight on Sarah Palin's experience, it will turn into a mirror for Obama," said delegate Tim LeFever, chairman of the Christian conservative group Capitol Resource Institute in Sacramento.
"She wasn't put on the ticket because she has 36 years of experience," he said. "Maybe that's why Barack Obama put Joe Biden on his ticket."