RALEIGH, N.C. — Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin had dinner the other day with the Rev. Billy Graham, which is sort of the Southern equivalent of having an audience with the Protestant pope.
Palin's dinner with Graham, not her book signing at Fort Bragg, was her significant event in North Carolina.
For decades, presidents and presidential wannabes have sought the blessing of the nation's best-known preacher. EarthShare
The evangelist, 91, doesn't endorse any more, having been burned by his close relationship with President Richard Nixon, who was Graham's idea of a Christian statesman until Graham listened to the Watergate tapes.
Graham, a registered Democrat, has befriended presidents of both parties. In many ways, his role in American life has transcended politics.
But Graham has been closest to Republicans such as Nixon, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, called Graham from Air Force One on his recent trip to Asia to wish him happy birthday, according to Politics Daily. Graham invited him to visit and shared with him Proverbs 3:5-6: "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."
The Palin meeting was arranged by Graham's son, evangelist Franklin Graham, who met Palin in Alaska in February. Franklin Graham's organization, Samaritan's Purse, had delivered food along the Yukon River to families experiencing a hard winter.
In the North Carolina mountains, the two families prayed, broke bread and shared stories. Billy Graham autographed two Bibles. The elder Graham said, "I, like many people, have been impressed with her strong commitment to her faith, to family and love of country."
Franklin Graham told The Charlotte Observer that his father has "followed her career and likes her strong stand on faith. Daddy feels God was using her to wake America up."
The two Grahams' remarks have received wide circulation in the religious press. Religion remains a powerful strand in American politics.
Sometimes people for an explanation of Palin's political appeal - she is among the leading candidates for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. It is not so much about issues and ideology. She was a fairly pragmatic governor of Alaska.
It is about going rogue, as her book title suggests, about class politics, and about the power of religion.
Which is why approving comments from Billy Graham are far more important to her supporters than questions pundits raise about her presidential credentials.