Page last updated at 02:25 GMT, Saturday, 30 August 2008 03:25 UK

From Wasilla to the White House?

Republican John McCain has sprung a surprise by choosing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential pick.

Ali Reed, who reported from Alaska for CBS News as Mrs Palin rose to power, looks at how her nomination has been received back home.

Wasilla, Alaska
The prospective Republican vice-president cut her teeth running Wasilla City, Alaska

Less than a decade ago, Sarah Palin was the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, at the helm of a town of 6,715 people.

Now, transformed by John McCain into the Republican party's presumptive vice-presidential candidate, Mrs Palin, 44, could soon be a heartbeat away from leading more than 300 million Americans.

Mr McCain's nomination of Mrs Palin, currently governor of Alaska, sent shockwaves through the US electorate.

For a moment on Friday morning US media pundits seemed stunned, scrambling to paint a picture of this virtually unknown newcomer to the national scene.


The governor of the largest and least densely-populated US state became the focus of the nation.

Even the Alaskan media was caught off-guard.

"I was in the middle of our morning newscast when the producers said in my ear that it was going to be her," said Matthew Simon, senior reporter at the CBS News affiliate in Anchorage, Alaska.

"I just said 'hold on to your seat folks, John McCain has chosen Governor Palin as his running mate.' Nobody seriously thought it would happen.

"It's just taken all of us in the state aback."


Mrs Palin's meteoric rise has taken her from the city council of Wasilla, a commuter city outside of Anchorage, to mayor of the city, through the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation commission to the state governorship.

Images of Sarah Palin as a beauty queen and with her husband.

Along the way there was controversy, not least when in 2004 she resigned and subsequently filed formal ethical complaints against her former Republican commission colleagues on the oil and gas commission.

She was an effective whistleblower, bringing down Alaska Republican chairman Randy Ruedrich before defeating the governor who had appointed her, ousting Mr Murkowski on a platform of reform.

In Alaska's general election, she overcame initial public scepticism about her youth and relative inexperience to defeat Tony Knowles, who had previously served as Governor of Alaska from 1994-2002.

At CBS, Matthew Simon covered Mrs Palin's inauguration and first legislative session.

"Palin seems to have grown into the role [of governor]. In her first speech to the legislature, we all remarked at how nervous she seemed.

"Interestingly, in her VP acceptance speech today, she came off as significantly more confident," said Mr Simon.

Despite her growing public profile, Mrs Palin's readiness for the challenge of campaigning on the national stage remains in question, even for Alaskans.

"As governor, Palin seemed to speak more in generalities when it came to questions of policy," said Mr Simon.

"She usually deferred a lot of the policy questions to her staff - she still does that today."

Lt Paul Honeman, spokesman for the Anchorage Police Department, calls Mrs Palin a "professional colleague", and has worked with her on public safety issues.

He is more optimistic about her ability to take on the vice-presidency.

It is a proud day for Alaska, we bring a lot to the table for the rest of the country
Dianne M Keller, Mayor of Wasilla

"She certainly brings with her the enthusiasm and energy with both her status and age. She would represent the everyday person," he said.

"She is capable, very energetic, proud, and I think she is very sharp. Plus, she is pretty well-versed in areas of energy."

The current mayor of Wasilla, Dianne Keller, was surprised by Mrs Palin's nomination, but optimistic.

"There's been a buzz around Alaska, but I was surprised she was on the shortlist," she said.

"It is a proud day for Alaska, we bring a lot to the table for the rest of the country."

Asked if Mrs Palin was ready to be vice-president, Ms Keller pointed to her early executive success.

"She was a very strong administrator for the city of Wasilla. During her time she reduced property tax by 75%."

'First dude'

Mrs Palin's husband, Todd, has spent a portion of his career on the oil fields of the North Slope working for BP.

Todd and Sarah Palin at the Iron Dog snow mobile race, Big Lake, Alaska
Todd Palin is four-time champion of the Iron Dog snowmobile race

The "first dude" as he has jokingly referred to himself, is also the four-time champion of the Iron Dog, Alaska's most gruelling snowmobile race.

The couple have five children, the youngest of which was born with Downs Syndrome in April 2008, during Mrs Palin's second year in office.

She has retained a high approval rating throughout her two years in office.

But she is currently herself under investigation by state lawmakers over the dismissal of a state public safety commissioner. It is alleged he was fired because he resisted pressure from Mrs Palin's administration to sack an Alaska state trooper who was in the midst of a bitter divorce battle with the governor's sister.

Mrs Palin has denied the charges, and her approval ratings remain above 80%.

Yet Alaskans, who were still asleep when their governor was confirmed as the Republican vice-presidential candidate, are still in shock.

"This is a surprise, it's a surprise to all of us," Matthew Simon said.

"Obama has made such a concerted effort in Alaska, setting up offices throughout the state. McCain doesn't even have an office in Alaska and he has never mentioned campaigning here," he said.

One thing is for sure - this state, often referred to as "The Upper One," will now be the focus of attention as never before.

And in an election that has been defined by arguments about "readiness to lead", the politician from Wasilla, farther from Washington than Washington is from London, will now face the challenge of getting an entire nation behind her.

Electoral College votes

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