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UPDATED: Going to extremes for a dinner with Palin

Scott Woodham

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Aaron Jansen illustration
"So Sarah, tell us about that pipeline of yours?"

UPDATED 8:20 p.m.: Joe McGinniss' $60,101.01 bid wasn't enough.

According to The Associated Press, Cathy Maples of Huntsville, Ala., won today's Ebay auction with a $63,500 bid, earning the right to dine with Sarah Palin, likely in Alaska.

More from the AP story: "Maples, who owns a defense contracting company, also says she's a 'big advocate' for Palin, and would love to see her as president."

McGinniss, who is writing a book about Palin and had played up his Ebay bid to friends, bloggers and journalists, shared with Alaska Dispatch a congratulatory email he sent to Maples late Friday:

Ms. Maples,

As one of the underbidders, I salute you and congratulate you on winning the dinner with Sarah Palin.

I'm pleased that my bids helped increase the total proceeds that will go to our wounded veterans through Ride2Recovery. I wish you the best for your forthcoming trip to Alaska.

Although I would have enjoyed the opportunity for a frank exchange of views with Gov. Palin, I'm pleased that someone with your record of accomplishment will grace her table.

Sincerely,
Joe McGinniss
Going to extremes for a dinner with Palin

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palin-role2(8:45 a.m. Friday) We're crossing our fingers really hard today ... bestselling author Joe McGinniss is a strong contender to win the Ebay auction for a dinner with Sarah Palin.

McGinniss is among the top-two bidders in that now-famous Ebay auction for a foursome dinner date with Palin. He's bid $59,999.99 to dine with Our Lady of the North. The ecstatic subject line to an email McGinniss sent to AlaskaDispatch.com Thursday night read, "I'm going for the knockout blow! (mostly because I like the ‘FREE shipping' guarantee)."

Winning the auction would be a boon to McGinniss, who says in his email, "I think such a dinner would be the perfect way to kick off the reporting for my new book: Sarah Palin's Year of Living Dangerously.  (To be published by Broadway/Random House in fall of 2011.)"

McGinniss is best known to Alaskans for having written Going to Extremes, a 1980 book chronicling the madness and fast-dealing that gripped the Last Frontier during the 1970s oil-pipeline boom, a fantastic tale full of crusty characters like Halibut Cove czar Clem Tillion, then-oil flack and journalist Tom Brennan, and former Anchorage Daily News editor and McClatchy Co. executive Howard Weaver, then a young, idealistic journalist who was going to change the world with his weekly rag, the Alaska Advocate.

Just as oil was the biggest story back then, so is Sarah Palin now.

McGinniss began probing her explosive rise last fall, when he came to Alaska to report for Conde Nast's Portfolio. McGinniss got himself a room at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage, but he also made his way around the state, visiting writer Seth Kantner in Kotzebue and hanging around Juneau to soak up Palin stories. On the night of the presidential election, he was back in Anchorage throwing down drinks with local journalists and bloggers, reminiscing of his days of writing The Selling of the President, the political romp examining Richard Nixon's run in the 1968 presidential election.

McGinniss's Conde Nast article, titled "Pipe Dreams," deflated then-Gov. Palin's attempt to usher in another pipeline boom, this time by tapping Alaska's vast natural-gas reserves. He discussed Palin's iron-clad assertions during the vice-presidential campaign that the proposed line was being built. To any longtime Alaskan, the gas pipeline is still just a complicated figment, like the first blush of a winter solstice dawn. We'll believe it when we see it.

Palin's claims during the election that the gas line was essentially a done-deal did quite a bit to hold off accusations of inexperience leveled by her political opponents and bolstered her nascent national reputation for being an expert on energy policy. But there was just one huge problem, as McGinniss noted. She was undermining Alaska's long-sought pipeline by angering Big Oil, which controls the natural gas needed to fill the line. No one needs to be an expert to understand: No gas, no gas line.

"Pipe Dreams" got good traffic even as Conde Nast's Portfolio was crumbling, eventually going under in late spring. So, McGinniss's next logical next step was to start on a book about Palin. Which brings us to the present. Again, McGinniss might become the winning bidder in the Palin-dinner Ebay auction, which is raising money to help wounded soldiers.

As excited as he is about what winning would mean for his book, McGinness says he is also worried about losing friends. The details of the auction only allow the winning bidder to bring three friends to the dinner, but, he says in his email, "I've already promised at least 40 people that if I win I'll bring them with me."

As of this writing, there were seven hours left in the auction, and McGinness was in second-place, two cents away from having the top bid. But that's the way these things go. There will likely be a flurry of bidding over the final few hours.

"I'm keeping some powder dry," he wrote the Dispatch last night. "Win or lose, I'll be back in Alaska next week - unless Sarah wants to have the dinner in Hong Kong."

But given McGinness' last story about Palin and her pipeline, would the ex-governor show up for dinner with the author?

Meg Stapleton, Palin's spokeswoman, had this to say when we informed her of McGinness' high bid: "With hours to go before the auction ends, it's hard to say who is serious about the bidding and who will be the winner. However, the governor and Todd are thrilled that, above all, our wounded warriors are being recognized and honored, and will receive every penny of the money raised. It is a small token of appreciation for the warriors' sacrifices on behalf of our great nation."

Given the volatility of web auctions, McGinness had better have something left in his war chest, not to mention a wicked computer and a screaming-fast web connection. Ebay auction snipers are even more cutthroat than Big Oil. All we can do is stand back, smoke our pipe, and dream.

[Correction 9-21: Originally we wrote, "Conde Nast was crumbling," but only their Portfolio did. We regret our error.]

Rena Delbridge contributed to this story. Contact Scott Woodham at swoodham@alaskadispatch.com

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