A journalist observes life in the far north.
I was impressed when Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin won the governor’s race two years ago. She taught me a lesson that candidates trailing as far as campaign contributions can still win public office. Previous political races that I tracked over the years had taught me otherwise.
I covered the money side of the Republican primary for governor, tracking contributions from Fairbanks. The race was between incumbent Frank Murkowski; river boat captain and former state legislator John Binkley; and Palin, a beautiful, young former small town mayor who drew respect for standing up to Old Boy Republican corruption. In Fairbanks, Binkley’s home town, the river boat captain was getting the most money from contributors. Murkowski, who also called Fairbanks home, was second. Palin wasn’t getting much money. Her support in the Golden Heart City seemed spotty.
I wasn’t sure Binkley would win, but I would have bet $100 that he would carry Fairbanks. Murkowski was wildly unpopular at the time, partly because of nepotism. In the end, Palin won and she carried Fairbanks. I remember calling Palin when doing my stories and asking her about her dismal contributions from the Interior. She said money isn’t everything. It’s votes that count. She was right.
Several friends in the Lower 48 have called me, asking what I think about Sen. John McCain’s choice of running mate. I tell them, “It’s good for women. It’s good for social conservatives. It’s great for Alaska. It’s bad for the U.S.A.”
When my domestic partner, Alec, woke me up Friday morning to tell me about the news, my first reaction was dread. The thought of Palin occupying the Oval Office is scary. She could hardly hold her own among smart people on “Charlie Rose,” a PBS talk show, last year. But then I was excited because the presidential race seemed sort of boring, and this move by McCain shows he’s in it to win. His timing stole the oxygen from Sen. Barack Obama, who had just made his big speech accepting the Democratic nomination. Maybe there will be more surprises. As an observer of politics, I love a well-played hand.
When Palin was elected, some of the smart people who I know didn’t expect much from her and she’s exceeded their expectations. She’s certainly one of the most popular governors in the nation, if not the most popular. Still, this move by McCain has the feel of a parlor trick. He is using a beautiful woman to draw attention to himself. If he wins, let’s hope he has the longevity of his mother, who is 96.