Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin headlined a boisterous rally Sunday night of conservative politicians, broadcasters and religious leaders who one by one blasted the policies of President Barack Obama.
Freedom Fest 2010, held in Old Dominion University's Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk, was billed as a salute to the military and public safety workers, but with the exception of singer Lee Greenwood's musical performance, most of the comments were critical of Obama's actions in dealing with the economy, energy, federal budgets and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The audience filled less than one-third of the arena, but many who showed up said they were looking for something to cheer.
"We've been registered Democrats for 30 years," said Ronnie Cooper, who drove up with his wife from Currituck County, N.C. "The party has lost its way. It's been taken over by a bunch of left-leaning, socialist ideologues. Sarah Palin and the tea party look like the answer." (Translation: We don't want a n***** President!)
Palin, who was the last of eight speakers to take the stage, got a standing ovation as she was introduced.
Her fast-paced speech was filled with many lines for which she's been known since gaining national prominence with her failed 2008 vice presidential bid.
"Don't retreat. Don't retreat," she said. "Just reload. That's what we've got to do."
There's a marked difference in Obama's view of the country from her own, she said.
"He sees a country that has to be apologized for around the world, especially to dictators," the former Alaska governor said. "We want to be a dominant superpower. It's in America's best interest and the world's that we are."
She said the nation needs to spend what is necessary on the military and "cut spending in every single department except defense."
She predicted nothing is going to change just by talking about those issues.
"I don't think they're going to listen to a hockey mom from Wasilla. I don't think they'll be listening to you, either," Palin said, drawing a cheer when she said what's needed is a "change in administration."
Before Palin's remarks, the audience heard former U.S. Sen. George Allen say that America needs to be more assertive.
"We're sick and tired of being jerked around " by foreign dictators in order to get their oil, Allen said.
One-time Senate candidate and retired Marine Oliver North, now a broadcaster and author, followed the same theme in his speech, saying, "America has nothing to apologize for."
Unlike more traditional political rallies, Sunday's event was not free.
Audience members paid between $33 and $133 for seats in the arena; a few ponied up $1,000 to $1,200 for VIP tickets that allowed them to pose for photos with Palin and North.
Steve Batton, the event's promoter, said he hoped it would be a money-making proposition that would draw attention to his weekday morning talk radio show on 1650 WHFT-AM.
Palin and North were paid speaking fees, while others, such as Allen, were not.
Palin has received $100,000 at other appearances. Batton said he's forbidden to discuss her fee and noted that North "dramatically" cut his fee after learning the event was to honor the military and public safety workers.
Palin's Norfolk appearance, her first since a 2008 Virginia Beach campaign swing, was one of three paid appearances in a few days. On Saturday, she spoke at The Oil Palace arena in Tyler, Texas, and is scheduled to appear Tuesday in the Gwinnett Center arena in suburban Atlanta.
Batton's event in Norfolk also had financial support from Regent University and Freedom Automotive, which is owned by Scott Rigell, a Republican taking on U.S. Rep. Glenn Nye, a Democrat, in the 2nd Congressional District this fall.
Rigell had intended to speak at the rally but did not, he said, because of "an abundance of caution" over whether it was legal under federal election law for his business to help pay for an event where he appears as a candidate. His wife, Terri Rigell, spoke in his place.
But for many in the audience, the reason they came was Palin. And they didn't mind buying a ticket to see her.
"We're here celebrating the American way of life," Andrew Sparks of Portsmouth said. "I want to hear what she has to say."
Bill Reid, owner of The NorVa and a veteran music promoter, said Freedom Fest 2010 "is capitalism at its finest.... It's show biz."
"It's no different than if you're seeing a singer or a rock band. It's basically a personal appearance and... they wrap a show around it."
People who favor Palin's brand of politics are willing to pay to hear her speak, and that's no different from someone paying to see their favorite Broadway play, he said.
Despite the public's willingness to compensate Palin and other political figures to hear their thoughts, Quentin Kidd, a political science professor at Christopher Newport University, said he's not enthused about the practice.
"In the old days, when a political cause or a campaign held a rally, the attendees could feel pretty confident that they were all motivated by the same cause," he said.
But when the political faithful are buying tickets to hear speakers at a for-profit event, it can be hard to tell "if the organization or speaker was motivated by the same cause or if they're simply motivated by a paycheck," Kidd said. "It's a pretty important and significant shift away from the normal political event."
Batton said if Sunday's event leaves him in the black, he'll do it again.
Gary C. Byler, chairman of the 2nd District's GOP, who introduced some speakers on Sunday, predicts similar events will become the norm.
"I think once the horse is out of the barn, I'm not sure you'll ever see it get back in," he said.
I live within walking distance of the Constant Center. Now I know what that stench was.