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For Gov. Sarah Palin's fans, a team of their own

Women drawn into the political conversation by the now-famous Republican are trying to keep it going.

December 21, 2008|Laura Olson

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 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 and the running mate who rallied so many conservatives, some of those whom Palin drew to the political arena are seeking to keep a conversation going. This includes TeamSarah.org, a social networking site launched in September.

Palin's emergence in national politics touched a group of women who hadn't connected with other female politicians, who usually were Democrats, said Barbara Burrell, a researcher at Northern Illinois University who focuses on women and politics.

One of those women is Jackie Siciliano, 45, a New Jersey mom 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.

Organizers stood ready to rally Palin fans.

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 antiabortion group that promotes the involvement of women in politics. She and Jane Abraham, chairwoman of the group's board, started the site as a place for followers to network and promote Palin.

The website grew quickly, the organizers said, with membership increasing after each burst of critical news coverage of the controversial Republican running mate from Alaska. On the site, members created profiles, browsed blog postings, found volunteer activities and met other supporters.

Some identified with Palin on social issues. Some, despite differences on the issues, found life experiences in common. McGinley, a Team Sarah member who coordinated outreach in New Hampshire, said a friend of hers who supports abortion rights got involved in the campaign.

"She said to me that, of all of the things that she might disagree with Sarah Palin about, the other things outweighed" the issues in dispute, McGinley said. "She felt Sarah Palin understood those things better than other women in politics."

But with the election over, will Dannenfelser's "vast army" stay engaged?

"It's extremely difficult to sustain any movement over an extended period of time," said Karen O'Connor, director of American University's Women and Politics Institute. "And it gets really difficult to sustain momentum as a vice presidential candidate down the road."

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lolson@tribune.com

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