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A little of real Palin revealed

By Jonathan Beale
BBC News, Washington

So far, we have heard from Sarah Palin's mum and dad, her current church minister and her former pastor, and countless residents from her hometown of Wasilla.

Sarah Palin's TV interview debut

At times it has seemed that there were more reporters in Alaska than polar bears, trying to separate fact from fiction on this new phenomenon of American politics.

US opticians have witnessed a surge in sales of those Palin glasses.

On the internet you can now purchase Sarah Palin dolls.

But until now we had heard precious little from Sarah Palin herself - bar the set-piece, scripted speeches that she has delivered with aplomb.

Her appearance on ABC News was without doubt an eagerly awaited interview, the anticipation heightened by the stories of her teenage daughter's pregnancy, "troopergate" and "lippygate".

'Agent of change'

For Democrats, who are not alone in feeling that she has been shielded from the media, would this be the time when she would fall flat on her face?

For Republicans who have been wowed by this mother, moose-hunter and maverick, there was the hope perhaps that her critics would be forced to eat some more humble pie.

It was always going to be difficult to live up to those kind of expectations.

But Charles Gibson, the avuncular anchor of ABC's nightly news, tried to probe areas that have so far been off limits.

He began with foreign policy. What did this former mayor of a town of 9,000, and now governor of one of America's most remote and least populated states, know about the real world?

We learned that Sarah Palin had travelled abroad, to Mexico and Canada, and more recently brief stops in Germany and Kuwait to meet Alaska's National Guard.

No, she had never met another head of state.

But she knew about Russia - because you can "actually see it" from Alaska.

At first it may have all sounded rather naive.

But Sarah Palin held her ground, pointing out that she was an agent of change, not the same old Washington politician clinging on to a "big fat resume".

Straight talking

She highlighted the fact that she was governor of a state that, she said, produced nearly 20% of the US domestic supply of energy.

She had clearly grasped some of the detail of global affairs, making reference to Georgia and Ukraine's Rose and Orange revolutions.

She staked out a hawkish line on Russia. If Georgia were a member of Nato, she made clear, then America and its allies would have to defend its independence.

It may have sounded gung-ho, but who could disagree with a central tenet of Nato membership?

In the end this interview is unlikely to dramatically alter already strongly held perceptions

Perhaps a more experienced politician would have avoided hypotheticals. But then isn't such straight talk part of her appeal? An antidote to the more academic thought processes of, say, a Barack Obama.

Governor Palin did seem rather hazy when asked whether she agreed with the Bush doctrine.

"In what respect?" she asked, without seeming to know that it was a reference to pre-emptive war.

But after some prompting she was able to define a familiar Republican theme of the threat posed by Islamic extremism.

More than that, she was able to make reference to the fact that her elder son Track was about to deploy to Iraq. For millions of Americans, this is about actions not words.

Many questions were really left unanswered. Her religious beliefs were only briefly touched on. She clarified her earlier comments that suggested the Iraq war was ordained by God himself, talking instead about a plan for good and a reference to God-given rights. Enough not to alienate an agnostic, or to offend the evangelical vote.

In the end, this interview is unlikely to dramatically alter already strongly held perceptions.

For Republicans it will have only reinforced Sarah Palin's appeal as a tough-talking, no-nonsense breath of fresh air.

For Democrats it is likely to have highlighted her weakness - a lack of experience.

As for the all-important undecided voter, they will probably want to hear more before they finally make up their minds.


Electoral College votes

Winning post 270
Obama - Democrat
365
McCain - Republican
173
Select from the list below to view state level results.


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