Palin's appeal: Fans at Bragg say she reflects their strength

FORT BRAGG -- They look at the billboard-sized photo of Sarah Palin on the side of her big blue bus, the picture from the cover of her new book, and many of her fans see themselves.

In the picture, Palin smiles confidently, though the sky behind her seems to threaten rain.

The women who waited in line for hours Monday at Fort Bragg to see Palin have game faces too, the ones they show their children when their husbands are away at war, when they're tired and they have nothing but their faith and their guts to keep them going.

She's such a strong female," said Jacqui McDowell, 28, who stood in the rain outside the post exchange with two other military wives and their six young children between them.

The women's husbands have been in Afghanistan since May.

Palin's oldest son is in the military and spent a year in Iraq.

"She understands," McDowell said.

If President Barack Obama's fans love him because he is who they believe they can be, Palin's fans love her because she is who they are.

"I think our nation needs a godly woman to lead us. We need somebody with wisdom from God, and Sarah Palin is a woman with wisdom," said Linda Forsberg, who was born in Guatemala but has lived in the United States for years and says she loves this country. Her husband is a retired Special Forces soldier, she said.

Forsberg was among more than 1,000 fans who were in line an hour before Palin was scheduled to arrive at the base. The women at the front of the line had claimed their spots Sunday. All carried copies of her book, "Going Rogue: An American Life."

The event also drew service members in uniform, military spouses and children, as well as civilians, who also waited to have their cars searched so they could come on base.

Dozens of news reporters and photographers also came, eager to see Palin interact with families at one of the two Army bases on her nation-hopping book tour. The other military stop will be at Fort Hood, Texas, on Dec. 4.

On the tour, Palin has been a book-signing machine.

Arriving at Bragg about 15 minutes late, she went straight to a folding table in an atrium at the front of the exchange and took up her pen, without any opening remarks. The store had stocked hundreds of copies of the book, which fans bought with their military discounts and took with them to the back of the line, which snaked around the building.

The book, a best-seller before it hit stores, is regarded as a way for Palin to reintroduce herself on her own terms, without the filter of John McCain's campaign staff, who Palin has said stifled her once she was chosen as his running mate in 2008.

She has not said whether she will run for president in 2012 as many of her supporters are hoping.

As helpers placed opened copies of the book in front her, Palin signed with her right hand and squeezed the hands of fans with her left. She looked people in the eyes, for a second or two.

She hugged a few. She thanked them all.

To keep the line moving, she would not personalize the signatures; she wouldn't pose for photos, and she wouldn't sign anything but "Going Rogue."

She made one exception.

After Palin signed her books, Malan Heitenreich asked whether the former Republican vice presidential candidate would repeat the favor on the bright red cast on her left foot, the result of a stress fracture.

When Palin agreed, Heitenreich hiked her foot onto the table.

"I think she is a great woman and has wonderful ideas," Heitenreich said.

Samantha Birkholz, who lives on post, said she is not a political junkie and is drawn to candidates she thinks are good people. She likes Hillary Rodham Clinton. She likes Palin.

Birkholz was disappointed, she said, when Palin resigned as governor of Alaskathis year, believing she should have finished her term. But Birkholz seemed to have forgiven Palin.

"I just like what she says and how she says it," Birkholz said.