This is how pack journalism works:
I was chatting this morning with Lori McKinny, a Burnsville woman who looks as much like Gov. Sarah Palin as Tina Fey does.
McKinny was standing outside one of the barriers in a rotunda of the Mall of America that were set up to keep some sense of order when the real Palin arrived to sign copies of her books.
“Didn’t come here to get a book signed,” said McKinny. “Just hoped that maybe I could get a picture with me standing here and her [Palin] up there [on the stage that was set up for the signing].”
Anyhow, I was chatting with McKinny when a reporter from the Star Tribune spotted us.
Soon, she joined us.
Then, the guy from WCCO Radio. Then, the guy from the Pioneer Press and some television people. Soon, McKinny and I were surrounded by journalists.
“If I’d known we’d attract this attention,” said McKinny’s friend, Karolynne Reinke, “I would have dressed up a little more.”
Palin arrives early but stays mum with press
The real Palin, it should be noted, was not speaking with the press on this day. She didn’t even make any announcement to the masses — estimated at about 1,400 people by a mall official — when she arrived for the signing 20 minutes early, 11:40 a.m.
Boom. It happened just like that. Suddenly some piped-in Christmas music began — “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” — and the army of security guards started moving people back from barriers and Palin was on the stage, with husband Todd and baby Trig. There was a buzz in the crowd. Digital camera flashes lit up the place, and she went to work.
The first person in line, by the way, was Darla Hathaway, a Rosemount woman who had awakened at 3 a.m. and got in line sometime before 5. How she ended up first in line among hundreds of other Palin fans wasn’t clear, even to her. But there she was, first up, in a line that started forming outside the megamall in the cold and dark.
“Very, very cold,” said Hathaway.
But what she got, besides cold feet, were a handshake from the woman she admires so much and a big smile. She also got an autograph on her copy of “Going Rogue.” The Palin autograph, in red felt tip ink, was a big scrawled “S” and maybe the name “Palin.”
“She asked me my name, and how I was doing,” said Hathaway. “It was absolutely worth the “wait. It was, ummm, wonderful.”
Would you stand in line for any other political figure or celebrity?
Hathaway pondered that question for a moment.
“Not too many,” she said. “Maybe [conservative talk show hosts] Sean Hannity or Glenn Beck.”
There was a process for getting the former governor’s scrawl in her book:
1. The book had to be purchased at a Barnes & Noble store. For those who didn’t have a proof-of-purchase receipt, the bookstore had set up a special counter near where Palin was to sign the books. The books were flying off the rolling cart.
2. Those in line had to have a wristband. The first 500 people in line with their B&N purchased book were given an orange wristband. The next 500 received a teal-colored band. The teal folks were sent to a special bullpen sort of area.
“They told us there are no guarantees,” said Bill Collins, who stood with his wife, Bonnie, in the bullpen area.
A long but worthwhile trip
The Collinses are from Lincoln, Neb. The two had started their journey toward the mall on Sunday, stopping in Mason City en route.
“My hippie sister lives there,” said Bonnie. “She doesn’t like Gov. Palin, but we love her anyway.”
Bonnie’s sister fed the Collinses dinner Sunday night — chicken enchiladas — and tried to tell them they shouldn’t worry about arriving at the mall early.
“She said nobody would be there,” said Bonnie. “We wanted to leave at 1 [a.m.], but she talked us into waiting until 2 [a.m.].”
The Collinses arrived at the mall about 4:40 a.m., parked their car and got in line. They were disappointed that they weren’t in the orange wristband grouping but remained hopeful.
“If we just get a glimpse of her, the trip will have been worthwhile,” said Bonnie.
But neither those with the teal bands — nor those with magenta bands, who were even further back on the priority list — could see Palin from where they stood.
Why would anyone drive from Nebraska or Rosemount to stand in line for a glimpse and a scrawled “SPalin”?
“We love Sarah,” said Bonnie. “She’s honest, trustworthy, a genuine person.”
The Collinses did get a glimpse of their hero in the final days of the presidential campaign when she stopped in Omaha.
They carried a homemade sign that read, “Drill baby, drill,” for that event.
Signs were not allowed at this event, or at least weren’t supposed to be allowed. A few signs did pop up, and there were campaign buttons, including an intriguing one that read: “Palin-Bachmann” in 2012, in tribute to another Republican, 6th District Rep. Michele Bachmann.
There was also one 33-year-old man, identified by police as Jeremy Paul Olson, who tried to crash the party by throwing tomatoes — apparently at Palin — from a balcony above the stage. He missed her by such a distance that witnesses say she didn’t miss a signature, but a tomato did hit a Bloomington police officer and Olson was arrested and charged with fourth-degree assault on an officer.
The former governor’s crowd crossed age — though not race — categories. Virtually everyone in the orange, teal and magenta lines was white.
GOP candidates show up, too
But beyond that, there were sad Vikings fans, pregnant women, people in wheelchairs, unemployed workers — and a couple of Republican candidates.
Phil Herwig, who is running for governor, was in the orange line because he believes she’s a true conservative, not like so many of those who he says campaign conservative but then turn moderate following election.
“She seems to mean what she says,” said Herwig, who compared her to Paul Wellstone and Martin Luther King as people of conviction.
He looked at the huge lines of people and smiled.
“I think if you took the pulses of [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi, [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid, [Minnesota Senate Majoirty Leader] Pogemiller and [Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson] Kelliher, they’d be a little nervous when they saw this,” he said. “This is the sign of the tsunami coming.”
Another pol, Tom Conlon, was also on hand. A former St. Paul School Board member who now is running for state auditor, he was working the crowd.
When he saw the media horde surrounding McKinny, the not-really Palin, he grabbed the photo op. While reporters were taking notes and photos of McKinny, Conlon took her hand and said, “Welcome to Minnesota.”
But McKinny’s moments of fame didn’t last long. The media horde asked her a few questions and then moved on.
What they learned about the Palin look-alike was straightforward: “This is just the way I look.” She also said she had her “Palin” spectacles before the governor did.
She said she’d never heard of Palin until she burst upon the scene in the summer of 2008.
“All of a sudden, my phone started ringing,” McKinny said. “People were saying, ‘You look just like her.’ ”
Even her 4-year-old twin grandsons can’t differentiate between them, she said.
“When she comes on TV, they say, ‘Nana, that’s you on TV!”
Fortunately, McKinny said, her conservative politics dovetail with Palin’s, and mostly, it’s fun to be a look-alike.
“When I’m out for dinner, most people come up and say, ‘You look just like her’ and then they tell me how much they like her,” McKinny said. “But sometimes there’ll be a drunk Democrat who says, ‘If you’re trying to look like her, you shouldn’t. She’s terrible.’ ”
Security guards weren’t impressed by McKinny’s look-alike status. Moments before the real Palin arrived, they were clearing the areas along barricades.
“You can’t stand here. Move on, move on,” they had told her.
They approached McKinny’s friend, Reinke.
“You have to move on, now,” they said.
I tried to help out.
“She’s with her,” I said, pointing to McKinny.
For a moment, the young security guard did a double-take when she looked at McKinny. But she recovered quickly.
“All of you, move on,” she said.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.