Who Is Sarah Palin?

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is John McCain's running mate. Who is she? As surprising as this pick is, it makes sense in a way. Palin's ...
by | August 29, 2008

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is John McCain's running mate. Who is she?

As surprising as this pick is, it makes sense in a way. Palin's persona is very similar to John McCain's -- that is, if McCain were a 44-year-old woman from Alaska.

Palin made her name as a somewhat iconoclastic reformer in the Alaska Republican Party. Even before she ran for governor, Palin was a key figure in securing a $12,000 ethics fine against Randy Ruedrich, the chairman of the state Republican Party. Ruedrich, despite Palin's best efforts to get rid of him, still leads the party to this day. Palin also filed ethics complaints against a Republican state attorney general.

It was that background that made her the perfect candidate to challenge Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski in a primary in 2006. To many Alaskans, Murkowski's ethics had been in doubt from the first days of his governorship, when he appointed his daughter to fill his U.S. Senate seat. Palin won the Republican primary relatively easily (Murkowski finished third), then beat former Gov. Tony Knowles by a surprisingly comfortable margin.

As governor, she immediately endeared herself to the public by focusing on ethics reform. Palin also has a record as a fiscal conservative and, like all Alaska governors, has spent a lot of time focused on issues related to the oil and gas industries.

She's a big proponent of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which McCain opposes. She has also fought against the listing of polar bears as a threatened species.

Like McCain, she's conservative on social issues, but seems to prefer talking about other topics. She was put into an awkward spot in the very first weeks of her term, when the state Supreme Court ruled that the same-sex partners of state employees couldn't be denied certain benefits. The legislature tried to reverse that decision but Palin, advised that the bill was unconstitutional, vetoed it.

All in all, Palin is a daring choice and a risky choice. In one move, McCain is making a play for women and for young voters. No one would call her an elitist. She may prove to be a strong voice on economic issues, which is something McCain desperately needs.

But, she has served for less than two years as the chief executive of a state with a smaller population than Austin, Texas. It will be difficult for the Obama campaign to play the inexperience card, but, after this pick, it will also be difficult for McCain to use that issue against Obama. Plus, voters may not need any prodding from Democrats to wonder whether she is ready for the job.

As my colleague Alan Greenblatt points out, she's also facing a $100,000 independent investigation into her own ethics. And, Palin has fairly close ties to indicted Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.

One factor that can't be ignored: Palin is the mother of five children, including a four-month-old with Down syndrome. Inevitably, some people will say that running for vice president or being vice president will take too much time away from her kids. Yet, many people will find those criticisms sexist and unfair and may be even more drawn to Palin because of them.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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