Stevens says Palin has mettle to be commander

PRESIDENCY: Senior senator says he has no fear if she must lead.

September 4, 2008 

From mayor of Wasilla to leader of the free world?

Answering the question that the country is asking, Sen. Ted Stevens said Wednesday that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would be ready to step in as commander-in-chief of the military if necessary.

"She will be, by the time that might happen," Stevens said. "I think she could do the job as vice president, and should it fall on her shoulders to become president of the United States, I have no fear."

Stevens is former chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. He spoke in front of an Anchorage war memorial on the Delaney Park Strip, talking about his plans on veterans issues as part of his own campaign to keep his U.S. Senate seat.

Like Palin, Stevens is a Republican. His challenger -- Democratic Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich -- made his own campaign stop an hour later in Spenard, accepting an endorsement from the Alaska Professional Fire Fighters Association.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain has chosen Palin as his running mate, a pick that immediately ignited questions about Palin's resume. Begich and Stevens generally defended Palin's chops as a chief executive Wednesday.

"I can only tell you my experience working with her as a mayor to mayor," said Begich, flanked by firefighters across from Fire Station No. 5. "And I think the experience I had with her was getting the job done for us here.

"When I brought issues to her attention, she addressed them," he said.

Begich said he called Palin on Friday from a Nome restaurant, shortly after McCain surprised the country by announcing the governor as his running mate.

"I congratulated her on being the first woman on a Republican ticket," he said.

Begich said Palin's candidacy puts Alaska in the nation's spotlight -- which can be a good thing.

But does he plan to vote for her and McCain over Democrat Barack Obama, who Begich met with in June?

We'll see, he said.

"Sarah brings some uniqueness to the vice presidency on the Republican side," Begich said. "For Alaska, it's a great statement (for) an Alaskan to be in that position. For women, I think it's a great statement.

"But at the end of the day, I'm going to weigh what's right for who is running for president and that's where I'm going to be."

Stevens has been indicted on seven counts of not reporting gifts from the now defunct Veco Corp. in a sweeping federal corruption investigation of Alaska politicians.

Palin called on the senator to answer questions about the investigation in 2007, but she has not asked him to step down. The pair appeared at a joint press conference to talk about Stevens' energy plans in July.

Asked at the time if she was endorsing Stevens, Palin said:

"I'm on the clock and we're in a federal building, so we won't talk about campaigns or endorsements," she said. "All that comes later."

That was before Stevens was indicted and Palin hasn't publicly returned to the question.

Stevens said Wednesday that he hasn't asked Palin for an endorsement.

"We have a good relationship, but I don't see any reason to ask for an endorsement at the present time," he said. "She is governor and I think we should await the outcome of the problem I face in D.C."

McCain and Palin are running as reformers, with McCain saying that Palin has "fought party bosses" in Alaska.

Stevens said he thinks that was a reference to her battles with state party leadership -- not Stevens himself.

No one representing McCain directly asked him about Palin before she was selected, Stevens said.

"I've had conversations with other senators about her, when her name came up ... I told them what I thought of her and how competent I thought she was," he said.


Find Kyle Hopkins' political blog online at adn.com/alaskapolitics or call him at 257-4334.

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