With the release of so many Sarah Palin e-mails at one time, news outlets have had to limit their initial focus to a few subjects or periods of time, with some, in addition, asking readers to help via crowdsourcing. The New York Times, like some others, concentrated on the days in August and September 2008 just before and after Palin was plucked from obscurity by Senator John McCain and installed as his running mate, which ultimately doomed his candidacy.

I thought it would be fun and revealing to go back to my reporting from the first week after the McCain choice, which shows that doubts about Palin’s experience, views and character were raised immediately by the press—and that, contrary to popular wisdom, polls showed from the start that she was no favorite of women. Also: She was far from the first to claim foreign policy chops because Alaska is close to Russia.

The following excerpts come from my book Why Obama Won, also now available for the first time as an e-book.

August 30, 2008

Since yesterday’s shocking arrival of Gov. Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate there has been the usual cable news and print blathering about the pick from those who know little about her. But what about the journalists close to home—in Alaska—who know her best and have followed her career for years?

For the past twenty-four hours, the pages and websites of the two leading papers up there have raised all sorts of issues surrounding Palin, from her ethics problems to general lack of readiness for this big step up. Right now the top story on the Anchorage Daily News web site looks at new info in what it calls “troopergate” and opens: “Alaska’s former commissioner of public safety says Gov. Sarah Palin, John McCain’s pick to be vice president, personally talked him on two occasions about a state trooper who was locked in a bitter custody battle with the governor’s sister….

“She’s not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president?” said Lyda Green, the president of the State Senate, a Republican from Palin’s hometown of Wasilla. “Look at what she’s done to this state. What would she do to the nation?”

Another top Republican, John Harris, the speaker of the House, when asked about her qualifications for Veep, replied with this: “She’s old enough. She’s a U.S. citizen.”

Dermot Cole, a columnist for the Fairbanks paper, observed that he thinks highly of Palin as a person but “in no way does her year-and-a-half as governor of Alaska qualify her to be vice president or president of the United States. “One of the strange things Friday was that so many commentators and politicians did not know how to pronounce her name and had no clue about what she has actually done in Alaska…. I may be proven wrong, but the decision announced by McCain strikes me as reckless. She is not prepared to be the next president should something happen to McCain.”

And from the editorial in the Anchorage Daily News: “It’s stunning that someone with so little national and international experience might be heartbeat away from the presidency.”

August 31, 2008

When a Fox News morning host, Steve Doocy, testified to Sarah Palin’s national security experience on Friday by saying that her state, Alaska, was so close to Russia, it drew hoots across the media and blogosphere (and even, no doubt, from a few Fox viewers). This morning, on ABC in an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Cindy McCain endorsed this very view.

Asked about Palin’s national security experience, Cindy McCain could not come up with anything beyond the fact that, after all, her state is right next to Russia. “You know, the experience that she comes from is, what she has done in government—and remember that Alaska is the closest part of our continent to Russia.” Earlier in the interview, she said that Palin was “heavily experienced” in general, citing her going from the PTA to mayor to governor—and having a son headed for Iraq. She actually said that she started her political career at the PTA “like everybody else.”

September 1, 2008

A new CNN/Opinion Research poll released today shows that he contest between Barack Obama and John McCain—after the twin “bounces” of the past few days—remains essentially tied, with Obama leading at 49 percent to 48 percent. But what’s most intriguing are the results regarding McCain’s choice for veep, who was expected to draw more women to his side.

In fact, men seem to be more impressed with this move than women. Just now, this seems to be confirmed by a CBS poll released late this afternoon, showing Obama with a 48 percent to 40 percent lead overall—but with a wide lead among women, at 50 percent to 36 percent, which has only widened. Only 13 percent of women said they might be more likely to vote for McCain because of Palin, with 11 percent saying they are now less likely.

As for the CNN poll: “Women now appear slightly more likely to vote for Obama than they did a week ago, 53 percent now, compared to 50 percent,” reports Keating Holland, CNN’s director of pollling. Men have a slightly favorably opinion of Palin than women—41 percent vs. 36 percent. “If McCain was hoping to boost his share of the women’s vote, it didn’t work,” Holland said.

September 2, 2008

The McCain team may not have vetted Sarah Palin with boots on the ground in Alaska, but the Democrats sure did—two years ago when she ran for governor. The oppo-research, compiled in a sixty-two-page document with countless summaries or direct quotes, largely from local newspapers, covers all of the important issues you would expect to see, from her views on abortion and abstinence to tangled oil pipeline questions.

But it also gets into some quirky, if revealing, areas as well, such as Palin founding a company called “Rouge Cou”—what she called a “classy” way to say redneck—in case her political career didn’t work out a few years ago.

Politico.com obtained a copy and printed merely a handful of the hundreds of findings today. These included serious matters such as her use of the mayor’s office in political campaigns. But it also posted a PDF of the entire document which, I’d wager, few have examined.


Palin Said “Hang ’Em Up” When Asked About the Death Penalty. Asked about the death penalty, in extreme cases such as the murder of a child, Palin said, “My goodness, hang ’em up, yeah.” [Anchorage Daily News , 8/18/06]


Palin wrote a Letter to the Editor saying only, “San Francisco judges forbidding our Pledge of Allegiance? They will take the phrase ‘under God’ away from me when my cold, dead lips can no longer utter those words. God bless America.” [Juneau Empire, 6/30/02]


Palin Opposed Expanding Hate Crimes Laws. Asked if she would support an effort to expand hate crime laws, Palin responded, “No, as I believe all heinous crime is based on hate.” [Eagle Forum questionnaire]

“Palin said she’s not out to judge anyone and has good friends who are gay, but that she supported the 1998 constitutional amendment [to ban gay marriage]…. She said she doesn’t know if people choose to be gay.” [Anchorage Daily News, 8/6/06]


“Sarah Palin, a commercial fisherman from Wasilla, told her husband on Tuesday she was driving to Anchorage to shop at Costco. Instead, she headed straight for Ivana. And there, at J.C. Penney’s cosmetic department, was Ivana, the former Mrs. Donald Trump, sitting at a table next to a photograph of herself. She wore a light-colored pantsuit and pink fingernail polish. Her blonde hair was coiffed in a bouffant French twist. ‘We want to see Ivana,’ said Palin, who admittedly smells like salmon for a large part of the summer, ‘because we are so desperate in Alaska for any semblance of glamour and culture.’ ” [Anchorage Daily News, 4/3/96]

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