BY ABDON M. PALLASCH
Chicago Sun-Times Political Reporter
ROSEMONT, ILL.--With 4,000 Chicago area fans cheering her on, former Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin trained her sights Wednesday night on Highland Park High School, which conservative talk radio has targeted for canceling the girls basketball team's trip to a tournament in Arizona.
"Them are fightin' words when you say a girl can't play in the basketball tournament ... for political reasons ... so we're going to see about that," Palin said.
Arizona's strict crackdown on illegal immigration is projected to cost that state millions in tourism from such cancellations.
"I said, 'Wait, I thought it was already a crime for an illegal alien [to be here]," Palin said to raucous cheers at the Rosemont Theatre.
Noting that the Highland Park girls held bake sales to pay their way to the national finals for the first time in 26 years, Palin suggested conservatives could get the girls to Arizona despite High School District 113's decision to keep the girls home this winter.
Quoting her book "Going Rogue," Palin said: "Everything I ever needed to know, I learned on the Basketball Court: self-discipline, setting goals, teamwork, responsibility." She later added: "faith."
Palin said the school is still sponsoring a trip to China.
"You know how they treat girls in China?" Palin said. "It makes no sense. Even if they have to do this on our own. ... If the kids have to 'Go Rogue' girls."
In an earlier e-mail to Pioneer Press, school district assistant superintendent Sue Hebson said the decision is not a political statement, but rather for the safety of students.
"District 113 boasts a diverse student population and, as a school district, we believe in equal opportunity for each of our students," she said. "We cannot commit at this time to playing at a venue where some of our students' safety or liberty might be placed at risk because of state immigration law."
For 70 minutes, Palin optimistically preached patriotism, praised Illinois for giving the world Ronald Reagan and the Tea Party movement; slammed President Obama, moderation and Illinois' corrupt politicians -- who she said reminded her of the people she kicked out of office back home in "Alaahhhska."
Palin spoke in a black leather jacket and mini-skirt with her brunette hair hanging down, and a mammoth American flag behind her.
The former Alaska governor led off by saying, "I'm really glad to be here on the president's home turf. ... The eyes of America are on this state, watching what will come out of the political process and the 2012 elections: If it can be done in Illinois, it can be done anywhere."
She urged her enthusiastic fans not to settle for moderates to represent them: "Some Republicans apparently thought they'd have to move to the middle to win. I said, 'No, no, no, no, no. You win by letting the middle move to you. You let the folks in the middle of the road know that your ideas are the right ones."
When she mentioned "Republicans In Name Only" or "RINO's," a member of this very participatory crowd yelled out "Mark Kirk" -- the self-styled moderate GOP Senate candidate who did not attend Wednesday night's event so he could vote in Washington, D.C. Kirk has equivocated on whether he is seeking Palin's endorsement in his campaign for Obama's old Senate seat.
When Palin said Obama "buffaloed a whole lot of good people," an audience member shouted out "Liar!" -- echoing a South Carolina congressman's shout during Obama's State of the Union Speech.
This Palin-loving crowd loved it when Palin bashed the "Lamestream media."
"Somebody told me, 'You know you're going into enemy territory.' I said, 'It's Chicago -- it's not MSNBC."
Palin said the mainstream media demonized members of the Tea Party movement - which includes Palin, and, judging from the cheers, many members of this audience.
"We're being called 'racist' and 'seditious' and 'redneck,'" she said. "I really don't mind the 'redneck' part. I'm fine with that one. It's no mystery who we are: We're Americans; everyday hard-working patriotic Americans. The 21st Century Tea Party movement, it starts right here in Chicago. This is where it starts. So Illinois, your place in the history of this grass movement has been instrumental."
Dentist Marie Beagle and her dental assistant Jane Eplin drove in from Streator because "We love Sarah Palin. She's not afraid to show her faith; she has a great optimism for this country, faith that we can turn things around," Beagle said.
Like Palin, they love conservative talk radio. "I live by it - Rush [Limbaugh], I love Rush. Glen Beck is my new favorite. Mark Levin, the Great One..."
Was there anything they disagreed with Palin on? No. How about the Highland Park girls?
"Those girls should be there" at the playoffs in Arizona, Beagle said. "There's no reason to have it spoiled by politics. It has nothing to do with their ability to play basketball. You are upholding the laws that already exist."
Earlier, Palin impressed Illinois' top Republicans willing to spend $500 to $25,000 at a fund-raiser for the state party.
"We talked about the situation in Illinois -- the deficit, the high taxes, job creation," said the party's nominee for governor, State Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington. "I told her, 'Your being here is helping rally the troops and get the message out.'"
Brady and his lieutenant governor candidate, Jason Plummer, both made last-minute decisions to attend the party fund-raiser.
"She came in and was gracious enough to help us raise money," said state Sen. Jim Durkin. "It was very low-key, no speeches. She just met with people and talked with them. She said we have the chance to win many seats. People were very eager to take out their check books."
Durkin brought a picture he took with Palin, himself and Mike Ditka at a Latrobe, Pa., rally a week before the 2008 election, which Palin signed for him.
"She said this could be a good year for Republicans," State GOP Chairman Patrick Brady said.
"It was a moving experience," said former GOP candidate for governor Adam Andrzejewski. "She was very personable. She was encouraging us to keep up the fight for reform in Illinois."
Some 4,000 Sarah Palin fans paid the more reasonable but still-steep $56 to spend "An Evening with Sarah Palin" later at the Rosemont Theatre.