Correction to This Article
This article incorrectly identified a mother and daughter who were in the maternity ward at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center at the same time Sarah Palin was there delivering her baby, Trig. The mother is Jennifer Krueger of Wasilla, Alaska, who gave birth to daughter Haylee Davison.

Palin's Family Has Always Held a Place in Her Politics

By Karl Vick and James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 7, 2008

WASILLA, Alaska -- One Friday in June, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin joined the chief of the state prison system on a tour of the Point MacKenzie Correctional Farm, a 90-minute drive north of Anchorage. It was a routine visit but for the presence of the governor's infant son, Trig.

Palin held her baby in her arms as the warden drove a short distance around the facility, said corrections director Joe Schmidt, who sat next to Palin. A few days later, the governor got a warning from her public safety commissioner that someone had complained that she did not strap Trig into a car seat for the ride.

Palin dismissed the complaint as petty, and the commissioner, whom she appointed, took no formal action. But the incident shows the degree to which family and politics are bound together in Palin's career.

Of the many striking images of Palin -- sportswoman, beauty queen, populist -- in Alaska the most iconic is working mother, a perfectly coifed professional woman balancing public duties and child-rearing in a charismatic blur of multitasking. The governor shops at the Wal-Mart superstore off Parks Highway and drives the family Suburban herself. Under "business relationships" on a state disclosure form, she listed "family carpooling to youth basketball" because one of the parents is a lobbyist.

Long before she burst onto the national scene last month, Palin made politics a family affair in Alaska. Her role as a wife and mother shaped her entry into politics, proved central to her appeal to supporters and generated the greatest controversies in her abrupt ascension to the GOP ticket. From her children's names to her husband's public celebrity and role as unofficial adviser, Palin has created a reputation among Alaskans less as a rugged individual than as a maverick with a large and colorful family in tow.

Husband Todd, a celebrity in his own right as a champion snowmobile racer before becoming known as "First Dude," confers with Cabinet officials and is copied on the governor's e-mails. Her teenage daughter's pregnancy became a touchstone for a national debate on unwed mothers. And her sister's bitter divorce from a state trooper generated the first scandal in an administration built on vows of openness and rectitude amid a massive corruption investigation then rocking the Republican establishment.

Family offered a human touch as Palin, the mayor of an obscure municipality, positioned herself as a populist reformer against Alaska's notoriously staid and dynastic political order.

Then came the McCain campaign.

"I call her," said former aide Larry Persily, "the victor of circumstances."

* * *

In the Alaskan context, which until a week ago was the only context that mattered, it was enough to say that Sarah Palin was the ultimate Valley Girl.

The Matanuska-Susitna Valley yawns between Fairbanks and Anchorage, and the working-class sensibilities of the homesteaders who settled there half a century ago have defined the region even as it swelled into an Anchorage exurb.

CONTINUED     1                 >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company