WASHINGTON — She's got their hearts, now she wants into their wallets.
Less than three weeks after she was named Sen. John McCain's running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin was back in the battleground state of Ohio as the newest star attraction on the Republican fundraising circuit.
The Republican vice presidential candidate made her debut as a national fundraising headliner Monday night at a country club in Canton, met with donors at a $2,500-a-plate luncheon in a private home in Cincinnati, and then attended a breakfast Wednesday morning in Dayton. The first event raised an estimated $1 million, organizers said, a one-night take that's just shy of the $1.35 million total she raised in her 2006 bid for Alaska governor.
From now to Nov. 4, Palin is expected to rival the appeal of other top Republican fundraising draws, such as first lady Laura Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Already, the party is leaning on her, both to rally the base and encourage supporters to write checks. Online donations to the Republican National Committee quadrupled after McCain picked Palin.
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"Our party's surge in volunteers, supporters, and crowds in the last two weeks is mirrored in our fundraising," said Amber Wilkerson, an RNC spokeswoman.
Palin will be raising money almost exclusively for the RNC and local Republican parties where she holds the events. In between campaigning, she's expected to headline as many as 30 to 35 fundraisers from now to the election. Since the McCain campaign chose to accept public financing, it's limited to the $84 million allowed by law and cannot raise additional money.
However, the RNC can raise more money, and so will the Democratic National Committee and the Obama-Biden campaign, which has opted out of public financing. Sen. Barack Obama was in California Tuesday night for two fundraisers, including one in Beverly Hills featuring singer Barbra Streisand.
Obama's fundraising juggernaut — which broke records with $66 million in August — will be matched by the RNC money machine. So far this year, the RNC has outraised the DNC $92 million to $42 million.
The money from Palin's three Ohio fundraisers will be split between the Ohio Republican Party and the RNC.
Ohio Republicans are happy to accept the checks, said Kevin DeWine, the deputy chairman of the state party. The three Ohio fundraisers were planned well before anyone knew who'd be the vice-presidential nominee, DeWine said, but the party was pleased to have Palin. Ohio Republicans expect to see plenty of her over the next several months, DeWine said, since no Republican has entered the White House without winning the state.
"Her announcement in Dayton two weeks ago, her performance at the convention, has served to really close the enthusiasm gap" in the state, DeWine said. "What we've seen over the past 17 days or so is nothing short of amazing when it comes to grassroots response."
But Chris Redfern, the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, criticized Palin for failing to address voters' questions on the economy in her visits to the state while "America's financial markets are in a state of utter turmoil."
"Instead, she's raising money for John McCain, whose unwavering support for George Bush's economic policies has sent 250,000 good-paying Ohio jobs packing," Redfern said.
Palin's appeal to Republicans is palpable in places such as Wyoming, where people don't experience the once-a-week visits now familiar to voters in battleground states such as Ohio or Pennsylvania. Palin has a Sept. 24 fundraiser that's drawing people not just from Wyoming, but also from Idaho and Montana, said Maggie Scarlett, who with her husband is the finance co-chairman of the McCain campaign in Wyoming.
"We're really talking about a regional type of excitement. We are inundated with positive reaction and response," she said. "Strictly from the sidelines, I just think that the Western states are going to be very important in this election, and I just think it speaks volumes that she is coming in here. I can tell you, it has generated great excitement. And it has reinvigorated, certainly, the Republican base."
(McClatchy Washington reporter Greg Gordon contributed to this article.)
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