Sarah Palin could have hardly picked a more crunchy granola town to give a speech in than Eugene.
Despite its pioneer and logging heritage, the town where Nike running shoes were born from a waffle iron is high on organic food, snobby about craft beers and tattoos, home to the University of Oregon and dependably votes Democratic. Last year, the mayor declared the first week in May as Medical Marijuana Awareness Week.
Yet the Lane County Republican party couldn't be prouder of landing the former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential candidate, who uses "granola" as a term of derision, as the headliner for its Lincoln Day fundraiser dinner Friday night.
"She's a pretty brave woman, I think," said Bill Young, a Eugene veterinarian and chairman of the Lane County Republican Party.
"I think that everybody is concerned that it doesn't seem to fit the mold," he said. "Yet you have to realize there are a lot of Republicans and conservatives who live in this area. I'm just thankful she agreed to come, and put Eugene on the map, so to speak."
Palin's appearance will mark a detour from conservative enclaves like Orange County, Calif., Orlando, Fla., and Redding, Calif.
Eugene is a Democratic stronghold in a blue state. Lane County registers nearly twice as many Democrats as Republicans. The county sheriff is a Republican, and so is one county commissioner, but not one state legislator identifies with the GOP.
And that is the point of recruiting Palin, even at her hefty speaking fee — which Young wouldn't disclose — to rally the faithful here.
"She is somebody who can energize the party — make Republicans more visible in Lane County specifically and Oregon in general," Young said. "This will let people know we are trying to do things to help the state. And try to empower more people to get involved."
At $250 a head, the party has sold out the Eugene Hilton hall where Palin will speak. The hall seats about 800, and the party has also sold most of the $100 seats in an overflow room with a video feed, Young said.
Seventy people who donated $1,000 will get a photo with Palin and a signed copy of her book. Reporters can watch on video, but can't use recording devices.
In the old days, that could have drawn a crowd of angry demonstrators.
Students at the university were early protesters against the Vietnam War. In 1970, the ROTC building was bombed. Eugene's anarchist community sent protesters to the World Trade Organization riots in Seattle in 1999. And a cell of the Earth Liberation Front, calling itself The Family, was convicted of a string of arsons during the 1990s.
But all that has mellowed.
"Since 9/11, it seems that most of the anarchists have maintained a low profile," said Paul Neville, associate editor of The Register-Guard newspaper.
The Dropout, a new alternative newspaper, recently posted an online solicitation for groups planning protests and came up nearly empty, said sales and marketing director Robert Patterson.
"I was kind of surprised," he said.
One group planning to show up is MindFreedom. The advocacy group for the mentally ill is staging a skit, and plans to post a video on YouTube.
"It's just a big hand saying, 'Sarah, you don't speak for the mentally disabled,'" said executive director David W. Oaks. "A few of us with mental disabilities will be offering her an honorary diagnosis, if she wants one."
Michael Hinojosa, a stone mason who maintained a lonely protest against the April 15 Tea Party rally in Eugene, said he would not be taking his anti-Palin signs to town this time.
"I don't want to draw any attention to her and she's not worth my time," he said.
Eugene is more politically diverse than its reputation, said Joseph Lowndes, an associate professor of political science at the University of Oregon who studies conservatism in the West. The tea party rally in Eugene, for example, drew more than 1,000 people, making it one of the bigger gatherings in the state.
Still, Lowndes isn't getting much feedback on Palin from students.
"College Republicans don't seem to be visibly strong Palin supporters," he said. "Demographically, this stuff trends really much older."
Jerry Rust, a liberal Democrat who used to run a hippie tree-planting crew back in the 1970s and is trying to win back a seat on the Lane County Commission, said he hoped things would stay peaceful.
"I really do believe we can show respect," he said. "And whatever shrillness is emanating from those quarters that we may not agree with, we can meet that shrillness with even-tempered good judgment and well-reasoned arguments."
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