Archive for Saturday, August 30, 2008

Analysis: Alaska governor excels in beating expectations

Just hours after the Democratic National Convention wrapped up, Republican candidate John McCain his pick for Vice President...

August 30, 2008

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Jim Palin, Todd Palin's dad, displays Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's beauty queen competition photo, a 1991 photo of Sarah and her husband Todd, center, and a prom photo of Sarah and Todd, back, Friday at his house in Wasilla, Alaska. Palin is Sen. John McCain's presidential running mate.

Jim Palin, Todd Palin's dad, displays Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's beauty queen competition photo, a 1991 photo of Sarah and her husband Todd, center, and a prom photo of Sarah and Todd, back, Friday at his house in Wasilla, Alaska. Palin is Sen. John McCain's presidential running mate.

Election 2008

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On the street

What do you think about McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate?

She sounds good to me. I think he’s doing something smart by picking someone who is really pretty different from him politically and also by picking a woman. I think it will be good for his campaign.

More responses

She's a former beauty queen, a fierce competitor known as "Sarah Barracuda," a political insider-turned-outsider and the first female governor of Alaska.

Now 44-year-old Sarah Palin, a mother of five who gave birth to her last child in April, could be a heartbeat away from the presidency, should her 72-year-old running mate win in November.

Not since George H. W. Bush plucked an obscure senator from Indiana, Dan Quayle, as his vice presidential selection 20 years has a running mate choice been greeted with such a loud and collective "Who?"

"She's not from these parts, and she's not from Washington," is how Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, described Palin, pronounced PAY-lin, on Friday in Dayton, Ohio.

"She stands up for what's right and she doesn't let anyone tell her to sit down," McCain said.

Blue-collar origins

So it is with the former Sarah Louise Heath, the third of four children born to Chuck and Sally Heath, Chuck a teacher and Sally a secretary.

She grew up in Wasilla, a town of 9,800 near Anchorage, and was an aggressive point guard on her high school's state championship basketball team. In 1984 she was crowned "Miss Wasilla" and voted "Miss Congeniality" by other contestants.

After earning a journalism degree from the University of Idaho, she eloped with her high school sweetheart, Todd Palin, a commercial fisherman, North Slope oil field worker and four-time state champion in long-distance snowmobile racing. Palin launched her political career in 1992, presenting herself on the Wasilla City Council. Four years later, at age 32, she was elected the town's mayor.

Political prowess

Though she describes herself as an "average hockey mom," Palin has navigated through the rough and often corrupt Alaskan political thicket, striking an effective balance between self-promotion and challenging the Republican powers-that-be.

In her speech Friday, Palin came across as forceful, a trait that attracted her to the chieftains of Alaska's Republican Party, who arranged for her to be appointed to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in 2003.

Shortly after joining the commission, Palin led an ethics probe of the commission's chairman, Randy Ruedrich, who was also the state GOP chairman. Ruedrich eventually admitted ethics violations and resigned. Palin also joined an ethics investigation against Alaska's Republican attorney general, who had close ties to then-Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski. That paid off with corruption-weary Alaska voters.

"She has very, very good political instincts," said Mike Kenny, former Alaska Teamsters union president and now a Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives.

Palin has benefited from being seen by her opponents as a lightweight.

"She was criticized for being too young, too inexperienced and too naive," wrote Kaylene Johnson in her friendly biography, "Sarah." "Yet, time after time over the years, underestimating Sarah always proved to be a big mistake."

Ethics investigation

One potential blemish on Palin's record is an investigation into charges that she pushed early this year for the firing of an Alaska state trooper - her ex-brother-in-law - involved in a bitter child custody dispute with Palin's sister.

There's no evidence yet that the charge has seriously damaged her. In the week prior to the Democratic convention, Hellenthal said, Palin's approval ratings were 79 percent, the highest of any Alaska politician in history.

Few anticipated the former small-town mayor becoming governor two years ago. And no one saw Friday's announcement coming.

"Everybody's still in a state of shock," Hellenthal said.

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