On the Road With Sarah Palin: A Conversation at Gettysburg

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Nikki Kahn / The Washington Post via Getty Images

When Sarah Palin was a child, her parents would pile their four kids in the car and take road trips across Alaska and Canada. “In our old car that the front door didn’t open and we all had to climb over the back seat,” Sally Heath, her mother, said on Sunday as she gazed at Palin’s swanky painted bus parked for the night outside a Marriott hotel in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, just one stop on the former Alaska governor’s “learning tour” of historical sites up the mid-Atlantic coast.

“We did a lot of outdoor things, hunting fishing camping,” her father, Chuck Heath, said.

“This time we haven’t packed the tents,” his wife joked.

Indeed, Sarah Palin’s family road trip has turned into a media circus. Dozens of televisions stations staked out three different spots at Gettysburg National Civil War Park all day in the slim hope of catching a glimpse of the former vice presidential nominee. Dozens more followed her bus as it made its way from the National Archives Sunday morning to Mount Vernon and Fort McHenry in Baltimore before ending up at the Marriott in Gettysburg. What did the Heaths make of all the attention? “It was unexpected because I really didn’t think that any body would notice — except now that I see the bus, I could see how it would attract attention,” Sally Heath said. “It wasn’t advertised or anything so I didn’t expect anyone to notice because I know you all have a million other things to do, to cover.” (Why Sarah Palin is playing hard-to-get.)

Apparently not. Reporters from every major media outlet spent all day Sunday trolling for hints of Palin’s next stop on the bus tour. The Times of London sent two reporters. CNN, billing the whole affair “Palin’s Historic Bus Tour,” sent a small army. When the elusive Palin  finally emerged from the hotel wearing a white Alaska running store t-shirt, shorts and flip flops, 30 reporters converged on her to ask a barrage of questions as she posed for pictures with fans.

Would her campaign look like this?
“It would definitely be unconventional and non traditional knowing us,” Palin replied.

Will she run  for President?
“It’s still a matter of looking at the field and considering much,” she said. “There truly is a lot to consider before you throw yourself out there in the name of service to the public because it’s so all consuming. Right now we’re just having fun.” (How to know if Sarah Palin is serious about running for President.)

Did she want the press along on this trip?
“Um, well,  I think I don’t have a choice,” Palin said, putting her arm around Ed Mildon, an electronics manufacturer in a “Proud American” t-shirt who just had his picture taken with her. “We don’t want to disrupt others.”

“She’s a good Republican,” said Mildon, an army veteran who treks to different battle sites every Memorial Day. (Five reasons not to count Palin out for 2012.)

“Well, thank you for that,” Palin says, before continuing her response. “The purpose is to make people aware that there are good things in America that really need to be restored and appreciated. And I think we’re going to have a lot of opportunity this summer to bring a lot of highlighting to these good things.” (She confirmed Sunday that she plans to do another bus tour through Iowa next month.)

Is Palin happy with candidates out there so far?
“Yes, I feel that the Republican field is already quite strong. I think it’s going to change up quite a lot and I think there’s going to be more strong candidates who’ll jump in. Truly there is still a lot of time for folks to make up their mind and jump in and get their campaigns together the field isn’t set yet, not by a long shot,” she said, coyly. (Read about Sarah Palin’s new mansion in Arizona.)

At that, Palin’s daughter Piper began to get impatient. “Okay, mom, please?” she begged. They started edging toward a waiting SUV.

What are her big ideas?
“The big ideas are for big tax cuts in order for the job creators to be able to keep more of what they are earning,” Palin said.

“Ooookay, mom, please?” Piper said.

“And producing and reinvesting in their businesses instead of the government taking it and dolling priorities, you know that doesn’t work, that leads you towards socialism and look at the other countries that base their economy on that socialism, that doesn’t work. So, I want a strong economy, that’s for doggarn sure.”

Does Palin consider it her responsibility to run for Tea Party supporters?
“Not so much a responsibility, but a desire to be out there with a message of fiscal conservatism and constitutional conservatism,” she said, pushing Piper into the car. “Jump in, baby… And making sure that people know that there are solutions out there, common sense solutions to get the economy on the right track based on free enterprise.

And with that, she hopped into the SUV and drove away. More Gettysburg sightseeing is on the agenda for Monday morning, but after that, even her staff said they have no idea where they’ll be going. The agenda, they said, is all up to Palin.