Election 2008

palin, mccain, republican convention
Kiichiro Sato/AP

Palin Takes a Step Into the Spotlight

September 03, 2008 08:30 PM
by Christopher Coats
Since being selected as Sen. John McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin’s professional life and private life have become the focus of the 2008 presidential election.

Who is Sarah Palin?

A first-term governor of Alaska, Palin’s rise through the ranks—working for the PTA, then as mayor of Wasilla, then as governor—has become the narrative of the presidential campaign since late August.

Popular among many conservatives, the state’s first female governor, and its youngest ever, was largely unknown on the national stage until last week.

Since her selection was announced, the response has been split between enthusiastic conservatives and others questioning her level of experience. Some commentators have celebrated her “reformer” approach to government, declaring she would “knock the legs out from Obama’s monopoly on ‘Change.’”

Initially seen as a direct appeal to disaffected supporters of Hillary Clinton, the choice of Palin as McCain’s running mate also appears to be an effort to sway the conservative Republican base, as details of the governor’s strict conservatism have come to light.
The Obama campaign originally released a statement challenging Palin’s experience, but on the issue of the vetting process and Palin’s personal life, it has largely remained silent.

Vetting is traditionally an intensive and thorough process, arguably due to past mistakes on the part of presidential candidates, but reports in The New York Times and Anchorage Daily News suggest that McCain’s process may have been rushed or incomplete. Interviews with a number of residents, friends and colleagues of Palin suggested that few, if any of them, had ever been contacted by the McCain campaign to provide insight or opinions about the governor.

Although the McCain campaign has responded that they were aware of all the incidents in question prior to their selection of Palin, the vetting of the Alaska governor in the days leading up to the August 29 announcement has become a focal point of the Republican National Convention.

In the hours leading up to Palin’s acceptance speech at the St. Paul convention, the McCain campaign began to fiercely defend Palin’s choice, with some suggesting that the reports have amounted to sexism on the part of the press.

The allegations of sexism came after a series of tense moments between the McCain campaign and the media. McCain canceled a last-minute interview on “Larry King Live,” citing what he described as unfair treatment of his campaign by CNN.

After Palin’s selection was announced on August 29, reports emerged addressing allegations of pressuring a state official to fire her ex brother-in-law, a connection to an Alaska secessionist group, her stance on the war in Iraq and a series of personal family issues. 

Further, the campaign’s efforts to cast Palin as a staunch critic of corruption and distance her from controversial Alaska state leaders has been damaged by a report that the governor accepted support and contributions from Sen. Ted Stevens, who is currently under investigation for corruption.

While the series of revelations has served to strain the relationship between the McCain campaign and the media, a number of conservative commentators insist that the increased attention is obscuring the Republican Party’s renewed energy following the selection of Palin.

Elected to state office in 2006, Palin first entered politics in 1992 as a city council member of Wasilla, Alaska. Opposing the incumbent mayor in 1996, Palin rose to prominence for challenging the Republican state establishment.

She lost her first bid for the state’s lieutenant governorship but was appointed to the Ethics Commission of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Committee. She resigned the following year, reporting that she felt her efforts to draw attention to misdeeds were largely ignored.

The Alaska governor is an ardent conservative on a number of issues, including gun rights, abortion and gay marriage, and has declared her support for expanding oil exploration and drilling into Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, an issue on which she differs from McCain.

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