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Palin steps onto national stage

Don Hunter

Alaska woke to a new kind of earthquake Friday.

So did the other 49 states.

Instead of making a scheduled appearance at the Alaska State Fair, Gov. Sarah Palin stepped onto a stage in Ohio as Sen. John McCain's running mate on the Republican presidential ticket.

McCain's choice seemed to stun the country and took Alaska completely by surprise. Palin had been mentioned in the list of potential vice president picks, but got serious attention mostly on Internet blogs.

Hardly anyone in Alaska even knew Palin was out of the state. Unnoticed, the governor flew to Flagstaff, Ariz., Wednesday night and met with McCain Thursday, according to a McCain campaign spokesman. Later, she flew to Ohio and was checked into a hotel under a false name. Rumors that Palin would be the pick began to leak early Friday morning, and national news media began to scramble to describe and define her.

Looking on the scene as Palin joined McCain, New York Times blogger Katharine Q. Seelye wrote: "Mrs. Palin comes out, striding confidently to uplifting trumpets, with her family in tow. She looks a little like Tina Fey," a television actress known for performances on "Saturday Night Live" and the comedy "30 Rock."

Washington Post blogger Chris Cillizza called her "the most unknown vice presidential pick in modern political history."

In her acceptance speech, Palin described herself as "just your average hockey mom" who got involved in public affairs. She talked about her elections -- first to the Wasilla city council, then mayor, and finally as governor. She talked about her willingness to stand up "to the special interests, to the lobbyists, the big oil companies, and the good-old-boy network."

"I didn't get into government to do the safe and easy things," Palin said.

"A ship in harbor is safe, but that's not why the ship is built."

Palin is traveling to Pennsylvania today, to St. Louis Sunday and then to the Republican convention in Minneapolis, according to her Juneau spokesman Bill McAllister, who learned of her new duties when reporters started calling him at home early Friday morning.

Republicans called Palin a bold reformer whose pro-evangelical, anti-abortion politics would appeal to voters, and especially to the party's right wing. Democrats pounced on her short political resume and scant national experience.

"Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency," said Bill Burton, a campaign spokesman for Democratic nominee Barack Obama.

Republican National Committee chairman Robert M. Duncan lauded her selection and said Palin's "commitment to reform and record of bipartisanship is exactly what our country needs."

ALASKA REACTION MIXED

Even in Alaska, the reaction was mixed. Republican House Speaker John Harris didn't much want to discuss Palin's qualifications for the nation's second-highest office.

"She's old enough," Harris said. "She's a U.S. citizen."

State Senate President Lyda Green, another Wasilla Republican but a longtime Palin foe, had a sharper tongue.

"She's not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president?"

Other Mat-Su folks were more enthusiastic.

"Go, Sarah," said Roy Wallis, owner of a Wasilla gun store. "We're really, really excited. My kids went to school with her. Todd buys his guns here."

Outside the midtown New Sagaya store in Anchorage, Pat Shafer figured the news will be good for Alaska.

"It puts us on the map," he said. "I don't know if it's the right choice, but I think it's a really interesting choice. It's a provocative choice."

Others were quick to note their Palin connections.

Professors at the University of Idaho couldn't remember Palin as a young journalism student, the Associated Press reported. But the university issued a statement calling her part of its "legacy of leaders."

FISHERMEN UNITE

United Fishermen of Alaska put out its own statement, congratulating Palin and noting that the governor and husband Todd Palin run a Bristol Bay fishing business. If elected, she "would be the first commercial fisherman to hold that office in the history of the United States," the organization said.

Palin may have come to the Republican ticket with the reputation of a corruption-fighting straight talker, but she arrives under the shadow of a scandal spawned by a family feud. A special investigator hired by the state Legislature is looking into whether Palin or other state officials improperly pressured former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan to fire the ex-husband of Palin's younger sister. The investigator, former state prosecutor Steve Branchflower, plans to take the governor's deposition.

In a written statement released by the governor's office at mid-day, Palin promised to continue her job while she campaigns across the country.

"As the mother of five, I know how to multitask," she said.


By DON HUNTER
dhunter@adn.com