STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is the week that the vice presidential candidates will debate. It happens on Thursday night. And we are profiling both candidates. Yesterday, we heard about Democratic nominee Joseph Biden. Today, it's the Republican, Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska. NPR's Nina Totenberg accompanied her on the campaign trail last week.
NINA TOTENBERG: There's no way to sugarcoat this. After a brilliant debut at the Republican convention and a speech that electrified the delegates and the country, Sarah Palin is struggling in her second act as a candidate seeking to persuade uncommitted voters that she's prepared to be vice president of the United States. She draws huge crowds, though not as huge as GOP staffers would like you to believe. Still, by most standards they're enormous, 5, 10, 15 even 20,000. People, particularly women, are thrilled to see someone so like themselves up there and succeeding. And she remains a spunky speaker.
Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska, Vice Presidential Nominee): OK, Pennsylvania, over the next 43 days, John McCain and I, we're going to take our message and our mission of reform to voters of every background, in every party or no party at all. And with your vote, we're going to Washington to shake things up.
TOTENBERG: But she's sealed in a protective cocoon most of the time. Reporters who've been with her since she was picked say they can't even get close enough to yell a question. Since the Republican convention, she's done only six events on her own, two of them in Alaska. Most of the time, she appears with John McCain as the warm-up act, and a very good one at that.
Gov. PALIN: And Americans are tired of the old politics as usual and those who only run with the Washington herd. And that's why we need to take the maverick of the Senate and put him in the White House.
TOTENBERG: Her speech, whether on her own or with McCain, is mainly about McCain the maverick, the POW and about her own biography. The one substantive subject she talks about is her record on energy.
Gov. PALIN: 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. 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 very, very hungry markets here. It' going to help you.
TOTENBERG: News reports do indeed give her credit for the pipeline agreement but suggest that Palin has left so many financial and land rights problems unresolved that the pipeline may never be built. Also highlighted in the speech is her son, in Iraq, her Down syndrome baby boy and on the stage when we were with her, two of her three daughters, 13-year-old Willow and 7-year-old Piper, who with their mother work the rope line for a few minutes afterwards. And then, there is Palin's husband Todd, affectionately known as the First Dude, who is a commercial fisherman, oilfield worker, union member and a close adviser to his wife.
Gov. PALIN: He is the four-time winner of the Iron Dog, the world's longest snow machine race, 2,000 miles. And the more John McCain hears about that Iron Dog race, the more often he says, Todd's crazy.
TOTENBERG: The family introductions take at least a couple of minutes in an 18 or 20 minute speech that's nearly identical to the one she gave at the Republican Convention. Missing though are her famous lines about saying "thanks, but not thanks" to the Bridge to Nowhere and her suggestion that she sold the state's fancy airplane on eBay. Both turned out not to be true. She was for the bridge until it turned out to be politically untenable, and she 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.
On most days in fact, Palin makes only one public appearance, if that. Fundraisers have been scrapped. And in the ten days leading up to Thursday's debate, she will have made only one major public appearance. She did have a whirlwind series of meetings with foreign leaders at the UN in New York, but the close insulation of those meeting only provoke controversy. At the first meeting for example, with Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai, the press pool, all cameramen and one CNN producer, were ushered in just to take photos. And unlike at the White House, for example, where reporters often ask a question or two, there was no time for that. CNN's Peter Hamby was the producer in the room.
Mr. PETER HAMBY (Producer, CNN): We were only in there for, I counted it out on my audio recorder, 29 seconds. This was the longest media access we had all day because subsequently, we went to the meeting with President Uribe of Columbia and then Dr. Henry Kissinger, and both of those photosprays as they're called lasted about 15 to 20 seconds. So compared to those two, the Karzai meeting was a congressional subcommittee hearing.
TOTENBERG: There were no press conferences afterwards or at any time on the road. No interviews with local reporters, usually a great way for candidates to get their message out without much in a way of stressful questioning. The campaign however, did agree to three long network interviews including one with CBS's Katie Couric. Here's an exchange with Couric about what Senator McCain has done in the past to foster more regulations of Wall Street.
Ms. KATIE COURIC (CBS News Anchor): (Unintelligible) he's been in Congress for 26 years. He's been chairman of the powerful Commerce Committee. And he has almost always sided with less regulation, not more.
Gov. PALIN: He's also known as the maverick though, taken shots from his own party and certainly taken shots from the other party, trying to get people to understand what he's been talking about, the need to reform government...
Ms. KATIE COURIC: I am just going to ask you one more time, not to belabor the point, specific examples in his 26 years, of pushing for more regulation.
Gov. PALIN: I'll try to find you someone, I'll bring him to your.
TOTENBERG: Last night, Palin tried a do-over, this time with Senator McCain. Meanwhile, other questions remain about Palin. Though, she initially said she would cooperate with the "Troopergate" probe, an investigation into her firing of the head of then state police, now 10 witnesses, including her husband, have refused to testify. Also hovering beneath the surface are Palin's taxes. She remains the only candidate who so far has not released them, and this week, she extended the date of the promised release until after the debate.
INSKEEP: We've been listening to NPR's Nina Totenberg who also profiled Joe Biden yesterday. In fact, she's covered almost every vice presidential campaign since 1984 and Nina Totenberg, as you look at the Palin campaign, does it stand out in any way from those other campaigns?
TOTENBERG: Well it's entirely different. It's about the oddest vice presidential campaign I've ever seen. To begin with, we asked for an interview with Sarah Palin, we didn't get one. You know, even strategically, to isolate a candidate from reporters like this doesn't make a lot of sense. And then to expose her to lengthy interviews, just a couple of them. It seems to expose her to the greatest peril.
INSKEEP: So instead of talking a little bit to everybody, she sits down for these long sessions and can't get through then very successfully because they're so long.
TOTENBERG: In addition to that, on the road she's not doing fun raisers. She's not doing dozens of events. She's doing very small isolated events mainly with McCain. And then they exposed her to these tough interviews and it seems to have reversed the process. They keep her in the cocoon, except when they throw her in the deep end, to mix a metaphor.
INSKEEP: NPR's Nina Totenberg, thanks very much.
TOTENBERG: Thank you.
INSKEEP: And you can find Nina's profile of Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Biden, as well as more analysis ahead of the vice presidential debate. It's all at npr.org's election coverage.