Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has become a polarizing figure in the race.
Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has become a polarizing figure in the race. Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Charismatic and bold-speaking, Sarah Palin has an undeniable effect on women. The Republican Alaska governor-turned-vice presidential candidate is a polarizing character in an already fractured electorate.
Cheering women greet her on the campaign trail; jeering women slam her in print and on TV. There are Facebook groups supporting Palin and several hyperactive blogs attacking her. Some women see her as a role model; others as a marionette. To some she's a feminist; to others an enemy of feminism.
Back home in Alaska, where Palin has enjoyed an 80 percent approval rating, women have mixed reactions now that she is in a wider spotlight.
To many women in Alaska, Palin is a spunky symbol of success. Mayor Dianne Keller of Wasilla told the local Frontiersman newspaper that having Palin as John McCain's running mate made Keller very happy. "This is a great day to be a female Alaskan — any Alaskan," Keller said.
Keller, who succeeded Palin as mayor in 2002, said Palin is more experienced as an administrator than Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama and that Palin would make a great vice president.
Carol Brenckle, a criminal attorney and president of the Kenai Peninsula Republican Women's Club, says, "Of course she is qualified to be vice president. She's a respected leader and a courageous politician who is not afraid to fight for what's right."
Brenckle notes that Palin took a leading role in passing comprehensive ethics legislation, in response to a wide-ranging ethics scandal involving state Republicans. She says Palin also pushed key energy legislation, including a bill that licenses TransCanada Alaska to build a pipeline that will deliver natural gas to other states.
And Brenckle adds that people like Palin, "who stand up to do the right thing, frequently find themselves being the brunt of criticism."
A One-Woman Truth Squad
Some of that criticism springs from Alaskans like Sue Libenson, a public relations consultant for conservation and sportsmen's issues.
Libenson used to support Palin. In fact, last year Libenson sent a letter to the editor of the Anchorage Daily News extolling the governor.
"Palin's got us on the right course," Libenson wrote. "Kudos to Gov. Sarah Palin for calling an end to Ketchikan's 'Bridge to Nowhere.' From ditching the jet to revisiting oil taxes, Palin has shown leadership."
Once Palin stepped onto the national stage, however, Libenson says the governor started misrepresenting her positions.
In her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Palin said, "We are expected to govern with integrity and goodwill and clear convictions and a servant's heart. And I pledge to all Americans that I will carry myself in this spirit as vice president of the United States."
The governor's actions, Libenson says, prove otherwise.
In that same speech, Palin told Americans she will be an advocate for children with special needs. "In fact," Libenson says, "just this summer she cut funding for Alaska's Special Olympics."
Libenson cites the governor's line-item veto trimming the Special Olympics budget by $275,000. Palin also slashed funding for statewide independent living centers and transition housing for homeless young adults, Libenson says.
Libenson points out that in a state with one of the highest substance abuse rates in the country, Palin squelched funding — some $325,000 — for a substance abuse education and prevention program aimed at young people. And that she also pared the state's financial support of a Fairbanks community food bank, a drop-out-prevention program and an addiction rehabilitation facility.
There is a tradition in Alaska, Libenson says, that when people see something wrong, they come right out and say it. "When something happens, you step forward and do something," she says, "especially when someone is going around saying things that aren't true."