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Palin greets her supporters at a campaign rally Sept. 13 in Carson City, Nev.
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Vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin holds her youngest son, Trig, as husband Todd looks on at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., on Sept. 3.
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McCain and Palin attend a campaign event in Fairfax, Va., on Sept. 10.
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Palin listens as Sen. John McCain speaks at a press conference after visiting the command center at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency on Aug. 31 in Pearl, Miss.
There is no way to sugarcoat this. After a brilliant debut at the Republican National Convention and a speech that electrified the delegates and the country, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is struggling in her second act — as a candidate trying to persuade uncommitted voters that she is prepared to be vice president of the United States.
Palin draws huge crowds. They aren't as huge as GOP staffers would like you to believe, but they're still enormous by most standards — 5,000, 10,000, 15,000, even 20,000 supporters. Many people, particularly women, are thrilled to see someone like themselves on stage, and Palin is a spunky speaker, especially when she promised that she and McCain would go to Washington to shake things up.
"John McCain and I are going to take our message and our mission of reform to voters of every background, in every party or no party at all," she said at a recent campaign rally in Pennsylvania.
But most of the time, she is sealed in a protective cocoon.
Reporters who have been with her since McCain chose her as his running mate say they can't even get close enough to yell a question. Since the Republican National Convention nearly a month ago, she has done only six events on her own, two of them in Alaska. More often than not, she appears with John McCain as the warm-up act — and a very good one at that.
"Americans are tired of the old politics as usual and those who only run with the Washington herd," Palin said at the rally. "And that's why we need to take the maverick of the Senate and put him in the White House."
Key Elements Of Palin's Story
Her speech, whether on her own or with McCain, focuses on McCain as maverick and POW, and on her own biography. The one substantive subject she discusses is her record on energy.
"As governor of Alaska and former chair of the Interstate Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, I've overseen a very large portion of the U.S. domestic supply of oil," she said at the Pennsylvania event. "And through a heck of a lot of competition and a lot of hard work, recently I got agreements to build the nearly $40 billion natural gas pipeline to bring Alaska's North Slope gas reserves down into hungry markets here. It's going to help you."
Media reports give her credit for the pipeline agreement, but suggest that Palin has left so many financial and land-rights problems unresolved that the pipeline might never be built.
Palin also spoke of her eldest son, who is serving in Iraq, and her infant son, who has Down syndrome. And she introduced her two young daughters, Willow and Piper, who joined her on stage and later helped her work the rope line, as well as her husband, Todd. Affectionately known as "Alaska's First Dude," Todd Palin is a commercial fisherman, oil field worker, union member and close adviser to his wife.
The family introductions took at least a couple of minutes in an 18-20 minute speech that was nearly identical to the one she gave at the Republican National Convention.
Missing, though, was her line about saying 'thanks but no thanks' to the Bridge to Nowhere and her suggestion that she sold Alaska's fancy airplane on eBay. Both comments turned out to be untrue. Palin supported the bridge until it turned out to be politically untenable, and then kept the federal money. She did put the plane on eBay, but it didn't sell, and she ended up unloading it to a campaign contributor.
Limited Public Appearances
On most days, Palin makes only one public appearance, if that. Fundraisers have been scrapped. And in the 10 days leading up to Thursday's debate with Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Joe Biden, she will have made only one major public appearance, which was with McCain.
She did have a whirlwind series of meetings with foreign leaders at the United Nations in New York, but the tight controls only provoked controversy.
During her meeting with Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai, for example, the press pool, cameramen and one CNN producer were ushered in and only allowed to take photos. No questions were permitted, unlike at the White House, where reporters often make a query or two.
"We were only in there for — I counted it out on my audio recorder — for 29 seconds," CNN's Peter Hamby said. "This was the longest media access we had all day."
There were no news conferences afterward, nor have there been at any time on the road. There have also been no interviews with local reporters, usually a great way for candidates to get out their message without much in the way of stressful questioning.
However, the campaign did agree to allow Palin to do a long interview with Katie Couric of CBS News.
The reviews of that interview were universally awful. Comedy programs had a field day, and one conservative female columnist even called for Palin to withdraw from the race.
Meanwhile, questions about Palin persist. In the "Troopergate" probe over her firing of the head of Alaska's state police, Palin agreed early on to cooperate, but now 10 witnesses, including her husband, have refused to testify.
The issue of her income tax returns also lingers. She is the only candidate who has yet to release them. This week, Palin extended the date of the promised release until after Thursday's debate.