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A Tenacious Reformer's Swift Rise

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain selects Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate. Palin, originally from Idaho, was elected the first female governor of Alaska in 2006 after defeating incumbent Frank Murkowski in the Republican primary and former Gov. Tony Knowles in the general election.

In 2006, Palin went after Murkowski, defeating the governor in a GOP primary before winning in November. The election put into the governor's mansion a pro-life executive who is opposed to stem cell research, favors the teaching of creationism in public schools and is a longtime advocate of hunters' rights.

But as governor, Palin has played down her social views. Instead, she has focused on the powerful oil industry, helping to impose higher taxes on its soaring profits and pushing to construct a massive new natural gas pipeline.

"She's conservative in ideology, but she's very practical," said lobbyist Paul Fuhs, who battled Palin over the gas line and eventually reached a compromise. "What you see is what you get. She's very upfront."

One of Palin's first official acts as governor was to sell on eBay a gubernatorial jet that Murkowski had bought.

But she has angered two of Alaska's leading Republicans -- Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young -- by refusing to support their decades-long practice of securing federal money for the state, including Young's effort to obtain $233 million for a structure dubbed the "Bridge to Nowhere" by critics because it would have connected a small town with an island populated with 50 people. In her short time in state office, she has repeatedly thwarted Stevens's and Young's interests and, at times, challenged their candidates -- including their children.

So far, her popularity among her constituents is untarnished. In the most recent state survey, four out of five Alaskans said they support her, according to Moore. How that will translate nationally is not yet clear.

For now, even her friends, staffers and Alaska's most careful political observers are a bit startled by her leap onto the Republican presidential ticket. "I feel like I'm in the twilight zone," Moore said, "to think that in this short period of time she's on the national stage."

Staff writer Paul Kane and staff researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.

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