Reading Sarah Palin's Tea Leaves

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It was 10 weeks ago Friday that most Americans first heard the name Sarah Palin. Now, she's a household name. Michael Carey, editorial page editor for the Anchorage Daily News, talks with Renee Montagne about the Republican vice presidential candidate's political future.


She's a household name now, but it was just 10 weeks ago that most Americans first heard of and heard from Sarah Palin.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): I love those hockey moms. You know, they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick. And millions like Joe the plumber, who are struggling to sustain a small business. We want to cut taxes and our opponent wants to raise them.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): We can all look forward with great interest to her future service to Alaska, Republican Party, and our country.

Gov. PALIN: When he said that, 2012 sounds so far off that I can't even imagine what I'd be doing then.

MONTAGNE: In the days since the Republican lost, Governor Palin's prospects for 2012 and her political 2012, and her political future in Alaska have been something of a hot topic. Before her vice presidential bid, Palin was known as a consensus builder, and as you've just heard on the campaign trail, she was highly partisan. So, we asked Anchorage Daily News columnist, Michael Carey, how Palin will fare politically as she returns to Alaska.

Mr. MICHAEL CAREY (Former Editorial Page Editor, Anchorage Daily News): Clearly, the attacks that she made on Obama weren't appreciated, especially as she's suggesting that he was hanging out with terrorists or former terrorists. But in the legislature, if it's more important the bitterness that evolved over the so-called Troopergate incident, which the legislature investigated and issued a report on how she had treated her former brother-in-law state trooper.

MONTAGNE: There's another question about Sarah Palin's future right there in Alaska, which has to do with Senator Ted Stevens.

Mr. CAREY: This is what I'm beginning to call the Ted problem. Senator Stevens seems to be prevailing by a very narrow margin here in the U.S. Senate race, and then there's the question of his - will he be seated in the U.S. Senate, if he isn't because of his criminal conviction, would there be a special election to replace him? And would she run on that special election. It's a very big question. I think that she would be under intense pressure to run, because Mark Begich, the Democrat, if he loses this race, he would be geared up to run again. And I think national Republicans would say to Sarah Palin, you're the only one who can beat Mark Begich, and she'd have to resist that.

MONTAGNE: But if Sarah Palin had designs on the Senate seat, that would keep her in the thick of national politics.

Mr. CAREY: Well, She's really going to have to improve her performance really on the policy and intellectual end of it to be taken seriously. I can see how she could - you know, she's really won the role of queen of NASCAR, there's no question about that. But getting a larger foothold in the electorate, especially after what Obama achieved, it seems like it's going to be very difficult to do unless she grows and changes.

MONTAGNE: Oh, with that performance in terms of answer and questions about of national significance clearly hurt her to some degree. We have a clip of that interview with Katie Couric. In this case, she's answering a question about the Supreme Court.

(Soundbite of Sarah Palin interview clip)

Ms. KATIE COURIC (News Anchor, CBS): What other Supreme Court decisions do you disagree with?

Gov. PALIN: Well, let's see there's - of course - in the great history of America there have been rulings, that there's never going to be absolute consensus by every American. And there are those issues again, like Roe v. Wade, where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So you know, going through the history of America, there would be others but...

Ms. COURIC: Can you think of any?

Gov. PALIN: Well, I would think of any again that could best be dealt with on a more a local level.

MONTAGNE: Now, with that answer and others like it, were Alaskans surprised to see her stumble in this way?

Mr. CAREY: As I think the difficulty here is who are Alaskans? Her partisan supporters, friends, neighbors, from Wasilla and suburban Anchorage and to some degree in Anchorage, they're just with her all the way no matter what happens. These things don't bother them. For the larger electorate, there is a problem when she couldn't provide a sort of amount of intellectual content to her campaign for vice president that so much of it was built on - I'm a person like you. I'm a regular person. I'm a hockey mom. Even here, there were people who were saying, a portion of the election - electorate, you've got to show it's more than that.

MONTAGNE: Now that she's returned to Alaska, one might guess this would be bittersweet for Palin.

Mr. CAREY: Well, it would have to be. Now, she's going to have to deal with the Alaska budget, which faces a loss in the oil dollars, the price of oil has fallen in half since she left. So, she's going to have some real budget problems that she's going to have to deal with very quickly.

MONTAGNE: Michael Carey is a columnist for the Anchorage Daily News. He also moderates a weekly program on Alaska public broadcasting called Anchorage Edition. Thank you very much.


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