Kim Kaufman led a protest of one outside the Hilton Garden Inn early Sunday afternoon. Many of the 1,600 people headed to a Teen Challenge fundraiser likely saw her sign, but the Frenchtown resident only cared about one set of passing eyes: those of the event's keynote speaker, Sarah Palin.
"I want her to see my sign," Kaufman said, referring to a poster that read, "Real Women Don't Quit."
Kauffman had no intention of quitting, either. The main crowd of Palin protesters—about 30 in all—broke apart at 3 p.m., half an hour before the fundraising event started. By 3:30, a trio from Kalispell and one local actor were all that remained of the different groups who had organized their protests on Facebook. Even they threw in the towel as traffic slowed, leaving Kaufman and her friend Connie Grant of Clarkston, Wash., alone on the sidewalk.
Kaufman and Grant continued to shake their signs at drivers stopped at the light on Reserve Street and Howard Raser Avenue, each protester with her own goal in mind: Grant, to change at least one vote; Kaufman, to reach the woman of the hour. Their presence elicited odd stares and the occasional honk—no middle fingers, as they'd seen earlier from one man driving into the event—and allowed the women plenty of time to discuss Palin's merits.
"Just 'cause she's a redneck and kills wolves from a helicopter doesn't make her qualified," Grant said of a possible presidential bid.
And what if she doesn't run against Obama? What are her political prospects then?
"I hope zero," Kaufman responded.
The late-summer sun blazed down on the street corner, and neither Kaufman nor Grant had brought a thing to eat, drink or sit on. As Palin cracked wise about Tweeting media moles and rattled off faith- and conservative-charged one-liners for her supporters, Grant and Kaufman persisted, an unintentional juxtaposition to Palin's public image.
"I think she's a quitter," Kaufman said. "The people of the state of Alaska elected her to do a job...She's not representing the state of Alaska when she's out there spouting her own beliefs and views. You don't quit for more money."
Sometime around 5 p.m., Kaufman got a call from a friend who heard on KPAX that Palin had left the Hilton. Kaufman and Grant hadn't seen a motorcade, hadn't glimpsed a passing face that looked anything like comedian Tina Fey. So they headed home, Kaufman's objective unfulfilled. But the afternoon wasn't a total wash.
"We exercised our constitutional right," Kaufman said.
With a statement like that, even Palin would have to be proud.