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GOP's Northern Lights

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By Kevin Merida
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 4, 2008

ST. PAUL, Sept. 3 Alaska's delegates to the Republican National Convention are staying at the drab Ramada hotel off I-494, within walking distance to the Mall of America, which is the good news. However, the accommodations for the home team of the party's vice presidential nominee are what delegation Chairman Chris Nelson delicately calls "challenging."

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"The staff has been nice," he said, "but we have better Internet connectivity in Alaska than they do at that hotel."

As challenges go, taking up residence at an industrial-like facility in nearby Bloomington is nothing compared with the battle now being waged on behalf of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who accepted her party's nomination Wednesday night to the raucous roar of the conventioneers, among them some Alaskans shouting, "We love you, Sarah!" Alaska's 29 delegates have been on the front lines of defending and protecting her, fleshing out Palin's portrait with anecdotes of her reading to preschool children at a Baptist church and driving herself to work, pumping her own gas.

Both on the floor of the Xcel Energy Center, in meetings and at breakfasts, in the days before Palin took the stage to triumphantly make the case for herself on this historic ticket, the Alaskan delegates have found themselves besieged for information about her. Repeatedly, they have been asked to explain her. Members of other delegations drop by to chat and offer their prayers for Palin, and journalists stop by in search of telling detail. The previously unknown Rex Shattuck, a delegate and state legislative aide, said he has been interviewed more than 25 times by media outlets.

While the grander campaign strategy involves national party leaders taking to the airwaves to buttress the wisdom of John McCain's selection, no group of Republicans knows Palin better than the Alaska delegation. It includes delegates such as Melissa Stepovich, who runs the governor's Fairbanks office, and Cam Carlson, the activist described as Palin's "political godmother." There's Annette Kreitzer, her commissioner for administration, and Glenn Clary, the Republican state party treasurer who was put in charge of getting congratulatory flowers to Palin on Thursday.

There's Fred Brown, who said after Palin had wowed the hall with her speech: "It was a great moment for Sarah. It was a great moment for Alaska. Sarah displayed the same grit, determination, courage and personal charm that we in Alaska have come to appreciate."

Palin's Alaska posse has had a lot to talk about, given the storm that has engulfed the governor over a state ethics investigation, her 17-year-old daughter's pregnancy, her own delivery of a son with Down syndrome and assorted other questions about her personal life and effectiveness as governor.

The criticisms? Nelson calls them "mooseberries." Mooseberries? "It's what comes out the back end of a moose."

They expected her to nail her speech. Alaskan delegates have watched her jubilantly cheer on contestants at a snowmobile competition and have observed her in meetings with the presidents of Iceland and Mongolia.

Kreitzer felt particularly compelled to challenge the rumors that Palin had not been pregnant with her fifth child. She remembers noticing extra weight on the governor before she announced her pregnancy and not really knowing how to handle that. "I'm not going to tell her, 'Governor, you look like you're putting on a few pounds.' " But Kreitzer couldn't imagine any other explanation. "She's 44, [so] pregnancy never came into my mind." Palin is usually so stylish, Kreitzer said, but at some point before she decided to reveal her pregnancy, Kreitzer noticed that she would often wear track suit tops. Later on, those tops made sense, Kreitzer noted.

Some are of the opinion that the intense scrutiny is actually helpful to Palin and that she should respond to all queries and challenges. "It's good for her," said delegate Pete Higgins, a Fairbanks dentist. "It lets people know we have nothing to hide, and neither does she."

Delegate Fred Brown said after Palin had wowed the hall with her speech: "It was a great moment for Sarah. It was a great moment for Alaska. Sarah displayed the same grit, determination, courage and personal charm that we in Alaska have come to appreciate."


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