MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Sarah Palin has gone back to her day job as governor of Alaska. Her two months as John McCain's running mate made her a household name in the Lower 48, something Alaskans are still getting used to. As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, Palin will have to figure out how she fits into the intimate world of Alaska politics.
MARTIN KASTE: The McCain-Palin campaign jet made one final landing in Anchorage last night. And as the governor's family emerged onto the freezing tarmac, supporters greeted them with a new cheer.
(Soundbite of crowd chanting "Two thousand twelve!")
KASTE: 2012 is a year some Republicans are associating with Palin's name. But she's not tipping her hand yet.
Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Plans for 2012 are to enroll Trig in kindergarten and, you know, see where the kids are at that time in their life. They're going to come first, and we'll see what happens then, but just concentrating on getting back to the Anchorage governor's office and then the Juneau governor's office and get to work on all the priorities that we have for this great state.
KASTE: Palin can expect a warm welcome here, especially from people like Gail Anne Swanson.
(Soundbite of music)
KASTE: In a Wasilla coffee shop on Election Day, Swanson was already contemplating the possibility that American voters would be sending Palin back to Alaska.
Ms. GAIL ANNE SWANSON (Resident, Alaska): You know, she still has us, she'll come home and be our governor again, and we love her.
KASTE: Alaskans like Swanson say Palin's VP candidacy has made them feel more connected to the national scene. And they hope Alaska has gained a little more respect.
Ms. SWANSON: We're so proud, I'm so proud. It makes me want to cry just seeing her. I just - I am in awe of the fact, because she is so much just one of us.
KASTE: But are Alaskans getting the same Sarah Palin back? As he watched the returns coming in on Tuesday night, Democrat Eric Croft said no. He thinks she'll now be a very different politician.
Mr. ERIC CROFT (Democrat, Alaska): She's matured a lot. She's seen a lot of different things. She's also had to carry a more partisan banner than we're used to her having up here. And that'll have some repercussions.
KASTE: Croft is talking about the fact that as governor, Palin often depended on a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans. So it came as a shock to some of them to see her at the Republican convention attacking Barack Obama with a contemptuous tone that they'd never heard from her before.
Mr. CROFT: I think she had to play that role, and she played it well. But, no, I don't know that that's the natural her.
KASTE: The Republican pit bull may not be the natural Palin, but it's a performance that has state Democrats wondering whether they're still allied with her on crucial state issues such as building a new gas pipeline and squeezing more taxes out of the oil companies. State Senator Hollis French is a Democrat who got roughed up by McCain campaign attacks during the whole Troopergate affair. Now he says it's time for reconciliation.
Senator HOLLIS FRENCH (Democrat, Alaska): You know, I think the ball is sort of in the governor's court. We're going to be here, you know, and we'll find, I imagine, points of contact. You know, obviously, there's going to be some tender feelings after any election, but those go away.
KASTE: Standing on the tarmac last night, Palin did not seem to think there would be a problem.
Governor PALIN: Nobody should have hurt feelings. My goodness, this is politics. Politics is rough and tumble, and people need to get thick skin just like I've got. Yes.
KASTE: That's two months in the trenches with John McCain talking. Now, the question is what will she do with her newly acquired national political experience? She might consider the Senate. There's a good chance Alaska will be holding a special election to fill Ted Stevens' seat in the next few months. That could be Palin's logical next step if she decides she's done with small state politics. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Anchorage.
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