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Concerns About Spotlight's Glare, Effect on Family, Prompted Palin's Decision

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin hugged Sean Parnell, her lieutenant governor, after she announced on Friday she would be stepping down at the end of July.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin hugged Sean Parnell, her lieutenant governor, after she announced on Friday she would be stepping down at the end of July. (By Robert Deberry -- Mat-su Valley Frontiersman Via Associated Press)
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"It's been hell for them," Coale said.

She couldn't visit a turkey farm in Wasilla to grant the traditional Thanksgiving pardon without the event becoming an Internet video sensation. (Behind her stood a farm worker slaughtering other turkeys.)

Her staffers wrestled publicly over whether she would appear at a big Republican fundraiser in Washington this spring. (She attended but did not speak.) Meanwhile, her teenage daughter, Bristol, and Bristol's ex-boyfriend, Levi Johnston, aired their feuds, including over the care of their infant son. Even talk show host David Letterman weighed in, joking that one of her daughters had gotten "knocked up" by baseball star Alex Rodriguez in New York.

That joke, which Palin criticized, helped persuade her to step down, Coale said.

By June, when Palin returned to Washington, she seemed less upbeat, Malek said. He had organized a foreign policy briefing on North Korea for her and met with her and Todd Palin in his downtown office.

"I came away feeling that the job, along with all the other tugs and pulls, were taking a toll on their family life," Malek said.

Former Massachusetts governor Jane Swift, a Republican who, like Palin, gave birth in office, is friendly with the Alaska governor and said, "I don't think if you asked 1,000 mothers, you'd find one who would want to trade places with her."

Another reason Palin decided to leave office is her income potential, advisers said. As governor, she earns $125,000, and Todd Palin, an oil production operator and commercial fisherman, took home about $86,000 (not counting $5,600 for winning the Iron Dog snowmobile race), according to her latest financial disclosure.

Palin told the Anchorage Daily News that her legal debt was at least $500,000 and that she was thinking of creating a defense fund to pay the bills. "Obviously, we cannot afford to personally pay these bills," she said.

The governor agreed to a book contract, the terms of which have been kept secret, and when she leaves office could begin amassing a small fortune on the speaking circuit. One adviser said she could net at least $60,000 a speech.

The Palin camp has been trying to squash rumors that she resigned because of ethical problems. Yesterday, her private attorney, Thomas Van Flein, released a statement saying that neither the governor nor her husband gained any sort of benefit from construction of a sports facility in Wasilla.

Palin spoke to few people about her decision to step down until the announcement. "Her brother didn't even know about this," Coale said.

Her parents, Sally and Chuck Heath, in an interview with The Washington Post yesterday, offered few details about their daughter's decision.

"I know she gave it a lot of thought and prayer," Sally Heath said a few minutes before she marched in Wasilla's Fourth of July parade. "She doesn't make decisions without that. I think she made the right decision."

Most of all, others close to Palin said, the governor feels relieved that her title will soon be gone -- and with it, she hopes, some of the scrutiny.

"They're not watching much of the news, but what they have seen makes them think this is the right decision," said Jason Recher, a former McCain campaign adviser who remains close to Palin and was in touch with the family yesterday. "All the punditry and Beltway binoculars just makes their point."

Staff writers Carrie Johnson and James V. Grimaldi in Washington and Kimberly Kindy in Wasilla contributed to this report.

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