Carol Hoovler drove about 150 miles from her home in Virginia, with her family in tow, to watch the Republican Party's historic presidential ticket in action on Tuesday.
But more important than Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's breakthrough as the first GOP woman running for vice president, Hoovler said, was Palin's conservative politics.
"She believes in the same things I believe in — pro-life, low taxes, less spending," said Hoovler, 38, a homemaker and mother from Fredericksburg, Va. "I like the woman thing, too. But conservative first."
Hoovler wasn't the only woman to bring her family to Franklin & Marshall College for the GOP campaign rally. Laura Burkhead, 49, a nurse from here, wanted her 14-year-old daughter, Taylor, to see Palin up close. "She has lit a fire under the Republican base," Burkhead said. "It's incredible. I'm so excited."
The choice of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate jolted to life conservatives, especially women, who were lukewarm to the Arizona senator at the top of the GOP ticket.
In interviews with about two dozen women attending a rally here and by phone, female voters said they were excited by Palin because of her opposition to abortion rights and for her ability to juggle a career with five children.
The latest USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, taken after last week's GOP convention, showed a smaller gender gap: Democrat Barack Obama leads McCain, 49%-45%, among women. That's down from the 13-point gap among female voters after the Democratic convention last month.
Patricia Weaver, 53, a stay-at-home mom from Fulton, Mo., said in a telephone interview that she wasn't enthusiastic about McCain until he picked Palin. "I felt like I was going to have to hold my nose and pull the lever," she said. "I can live with pulling the lever now."
Arlette Figdore, 58, a retiree and volunteer for the Republican Party here, said she had some reservations about McCain because of his plan to provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. "His first big decision re-invigorated — obviously — the party," she said.
Camera flashes lit up Schnader Field House as Palin introduced McCain. She drew cheers with her Reagan-esque statement that "government is not the answer" to the nation's problems. At times, the crowd chanted, "Sar-ah! Sar-ah! Sar-ah!" Figdore carried a World War II-vintage sign, one that superimposed Palin's face on a portrait of Rosie the Riveter. The slogan: "Yes, We Can."
Some conservatives in the crowd said they were attracted by Palin's decision to give birth this year after learning her son would be born with Down syndrome. "When she found out her baby would not be perfect, she chose life," said Carolyn Vail, 65, a pastor's wife from Denver, Pa.
Dorothea Paulson Chartreau, 41, a bank teller who lives in Lancaster, said Palin has "an everywoman" quality and is dealing with issues that many Americans can relate to, such as a child with special needs, a son about to be deployed to Iraq and a pregnant daughter.
"People have teenage pregnancies," Chartreau said about Palin's 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, who is five months pregnant. "At least she didn't abort it."
Some Democrats predicted the glow about Palin would fade.
Jane Shull, 57, media relations coordinator with the Lancaster County Democratic Committee, said she is looking forward to the day "when facts are out," citing Palin's opposition to abortion rights and support of the Iraq war.
Sue Morrison, 56, manager of a local animal hospital, said she suspects McCain picked Palin to lure women voters, particularly those who backed Hillary Rodham Clinton over Obama in the Democratic primaries. "I find it a little condescending," Morrison said.