SAN JOSE, Calif. -- When Sarah Palin, possibly America's most polarizing political figure, stepped into the lion's den of heavily Democratic San Jose on Thursday, was a raucous crowd of "tea party" fans waiting to welcome her?
Palin, the conservative icon who last year resigned as Alaska governor with 18 months left in her first term, first drew cheers by saluting the San Francisco Giants, then said she was delighted to be in a "state that puts a mama grizzly on its flag."
Appearing at the downtown Center for the Performing Arts, Palin rallied the faithful to dump the Democrats and elect candidates that embrace the conservative values of lower taxes, less spending and smaller government.
"Are you ready to take it back," she asked, "and put government back on the side of the little guy and have government work for you instead of you having to work for government?"
Speaking in a rapid-fire, sometimes chirpy voice, Palin parodied "Saturday Night Live" by saying, "Nov. 2 is right around the corner. I can see it from my house!"
The public forum was sponsored by the conservative Liberty & Freedom Foundation, whose executive director, Victor Cocchia, asked: "What better place to come to educate people as to the conservative message than the Bay Area, where conservatives are marginalized and not heard very often?"
Palin attacked "Obamacare," President Barack Obama's landmark heath reform package, as "the mother of all unfunded mandates," and she assailed the 2009 stimulus bill and all the "shovel-ready projects" it was supposed to fund.
"Now we know what they were shoveling, and it wasn't asphalt," she quipped.
People in the crowd shouted in agreement. When one man hollered, "Throw the bums out!" Palin replied, "Amen, brother. You betcha."
In a speech tailored to California interests, Palin also lambasted the cutoff of water affecting millions of state residents because of "a two-inch fish," the threatened Delta smelt.
"Where I come from," she said, "we call that bait."
Palin is widely thought to be considering a run for president in 2012, and one person attending the event -- Darali Phillips, 67, of Los Gatos -- said Palin has her vote. "We just don't like what's going on in Washington," Phillips said, "and we want to change the tide" of "big government taking more and more control of everything."
Despite such sentiments, nearly six out of 10 Californians have an unfavorable opinion of Palin, according to a recent Field Poll. Pollsters found that 53 percent of registered voters would be less likely to vote for a candidate because of Palin's endorsement; only 21 percent said they would be more likely.
Negative views of Palin are likely even stronger in San Jose, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1.
"There is a Republican base here, but it's fairly small," said San Jose State political science professor Larry Gerston. "There are a number of conservative Democrats, however, who might be persuaded to some degree, or at least interested in what someone like Palin would have to say.
"But in general," he added, "this is not friendly territory for Sarah Palin."
Gerston said this is a good time for Palin, a "great communicator" skilled at tapping into public anger, to be speaking anywhere, given the national mood.
An estimated 1,800 people (not enough to fill the 2,665-seat auditorium) paid between $25 and $199 for the two-hour forum, during which Palin answered preselected questions.
At a VIP reception at the Marriott Hotel afterward, fans got a chance to meet Palin and have pictures taken with her for $500. That was followed by a $350 dinner that included herb-roasted chicken breast and creme brulee cheesecake.
Palin was one in a string of high-profile speakers visiting the San Francisco Bay Area this week. The Dalai Lama drew a reported 12,000 fans at the San Jose Convention Center on Tuesday, and the ultraliberal, Oscar-winning documentarian Michael Moore was to receive the John Steinbeck Award at San Jose State on Thursday.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is speaking Friday at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club. And her husband, ex-President Bill Clinton, is scheduled to campaign at San Jose State on Sunday for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown.
Terry Christensen, also a political science professor at San Jose State, said he couldn't recall such a "polarizing" figure as Palin appearing here since President Richard Nixon came to the Civic Auditorium in 1970; he was met by stone-throwing protesters. But Christensen said there are enough Republicans here to turn out in decent numbers for a "political megastar" like Palin.
"I can think of only a handful of current politicians who have her celebrity status and star quality -- just Palin, Obama and the Clintons," he said.
On Saturday, Palin will attend a Republican National Committee fundraiser and rally in Anaheim with RNC Chairman Michael Steele. Neither GOP gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman nor Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina will be attending, citing previously scheduled events.
Palin's speaking fees are usually kept under wraps, although after a public outcry over how much she was paid to speak at California State University, Stanislaus in June, officials finally announced that it was $75,000.
Cocchia declined to say how much Palin was paid for her San Jose appearance, joking that he has a T-shirt saying, "No, I Won't Tell You How Much I Paid."