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Sarah Palin and today's elections -- Referendum on Obama, Republican sweep?

FIlE- This July 26, 2009, file photos shows former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin waiving goodbye to supporters after giving her resignation speech during a ceremony in Fairbanks, Alaska. According to Palin's financial disclosure statement released Tuesday, she received $1.25 million as a retainer for her upcoming book
FIlE- This July 26, 2009, file photos shows former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin waiving goodbye to supporters after giving her resignation speech during a ceremony in Fairbanks, Alaska. According to Palin's financial disclosure statement released Tuesday, she received $1.25 million as a retainer for her upcoming book "Going Rogue." from publisher HarperCollins. (AP Photo/Al Grillo, file) (Al Grillo - AP)

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Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe
Authors, 'Sarah From Alaska'
Tuesday, November 3, 2009; 2:30 PM

Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe, authors of Sarah From Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar, were online Tuesday, Nov. 3, at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss their book and today's elections in Virginia, New Jersey and New York. Will it be a referendum on the Democrats and President Obama or a Republican sweep? How much influence does Sarah Palin have?

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And be sure to weigh in on Sarah From Alaska and the other forthcoming Sarah Palin books in our Your Take discussion group.

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Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe: Shushannah and Scott here. Thanks for all of your questions--we'll try to get to as many as we can.

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Fairfax, Va.: Why does the main stream media seem to despise this woman so? There was an obvious pack mentality to question everything about Ms. Palin and spin it in a negative light, yet the Democrat candidate for president was pretty much given a pass (as attested to by the WP's own ombudsman). This hatchet job continues to this day. Does the press fear her values, her power, her politics, what?

Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe: There were certainly instances during the campaign and afterwards when we felt that the media could be unfair to Gov. Palin at times. That's why we thought it was so important to tell the whole story in our book. We interviewed almost 200 people--friends, family, and foes.

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Columbia, Mo.: I don't for the life of me understand why the media pays attention to this woman. She and her thoughts are being foisted on us for what reason? She's not an expert on anything.

Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe: Love her or hate her, it's clear that Sarah Palin has a future in national politics and the ability to influence the debate. Just look at the impact she has had on the NY-23 congressional race and on the health care debate.

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Arlington, Va.: Do you think Palin's "death panels" comment on Facebook was a decisive moment for her? It certainly showed the power she has to move many (conservative) Americans politically, a power no one else in the current GOP can match.

But of course her comment was also completely untrue -- and whether her falsehood arose from ignorance or cynical political calculation, it's hard to see how that fact won't permanently solidify her inability to appeal to Democrats and a huge swath of independents. Your thoughts?

Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe: In short, we agree completely. Independent observers of the health care debate generally agreed that the "death panel" comment was entirely off base, but her impact on the debate was undeniable.

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Columbus, Ohio: Is Todd Palin an asset or a liability for Sarah?

Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe: We think he can be a great asset. Todd was perhaps the most popular person on the campaign trail among Palin's staffers and his laid-back persona is a big draw. One Palin aide commented to us that he had an "encyclopedic knowledge" of the Palins' allies and antagonists in the Alaska state legislature. By the same token, Todd has at times proven himself to be a liability when he has crossed the line separating his family's personal life with his wife's public career. The Troopergate saga is a perfect example of this.

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New York: I can't get excited one way or the other about Sarah Palin mainly because I see her as not very substantive, which is why she prefers forums that don't encourage discussion of ideas. I just have the feeling that she'll somehow render herself ineffective eventually because she is her own worst enemy. It's just a matter of time. Do your studied impressions of her support my theory at all? Thanks.

Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe: Sarah Palin has proven through her fast rise to the top of American politics that she has solid political instincts. By the same token, she has shot herself in the foot from time to time by relying too much on her gut at the expense of seasoned advice and documented fact. Several aides told us that she would often repeat the mantra, "I know what I know what I know." Well, that's fine to say, but there were certainly times when she would have done better for herself by heeding the advice of people who were trying to look out for her.

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Annapolis, Md.: Is Levi Johnston a thorn in her side? Do you think he's hurting Sarah Palin with the things he says about her in interviews? She has verbally fought back but do you think this will go further and who in the end will win?

Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe: Levi has certainly made his fair share of over-the-top statements, and it must be difficult for Palin to resist firing back. But every time she does, she reduces herself to his level. It's fair to say that getting involved in a press release battle with a 19-year-old kid was not a decision that added to her gravitas.

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Fairfax, Va.: What has been her role in the NY-23 race?

Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe: She was able to contribute to the GOP candidate dropping out of the campaign. Conservative leaders followed her move, but she was the first and the loudest very prominent Republican to say the Republican choice was not conservative enough. Days later she dropped out of the race.

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Long Island, N.Y.: Regarding her future in national politics:

There will always be a segment of the voting public that will embrace her, but considering that 1+ year after her debut on the national stage, a solid majority of see her as unfit to hold the presidency.

Her current activities may help with her base, but how exactly does resigning from office and stumping for her handpicked candidates help her with independents in 2012?

Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe: It doesn't. She has clearly decided that she wants to be the candidate of the conservative base. Her outreach to independents since her resignation has been minimal.

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Columbus, OH: Do you really think McCain picked her for her brains or for her experience? If McCain really wanted to surprise people, he could have picked Condi Rice or Hutchison or Olympia Browne.

Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe: Most people assume McCain picked Palin to solidify the Republican base. But Mark Salter and other top McCain advisers told us that this was not the reason why she was picked. They were drawn to her because of her image as a reformer and her ability to draw female voters. The McCain campaign was pleasantly surprised by her incredible ability to rally conservatives that had not previously coalesced around McCain's candidacy.

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Washington, D.C.: Can you give us a synopsis from your book research on what her friends had to say about her?

Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe: We spoke to some of her former high school basketball teammates, all of whom had nothing but good things to say about Sarah. One of our favorite days that we spent researching this book was in Wasilla, when Chuck and Sally Heath (Sarah Palin's parents) invited us into their home. Chuck has a sharp wit and great memory for detail, and Sally is so warm. They were both very honest with us--confident that the truth was good enough. When we asked Chuck what his reaction was when Sarah decided to run for mayor, he replied without skipping a beat, "I'm sure I wasn't doing cartwheels or anything." We enjoyed the story about how Sally accidentally sent back Chuck's only good belt, mistakenly assuming that the campaign had purchased it for him. Chuck also said he got a good chuckle out of the $90 socks that were bought for him.

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South Bend, Ind.: Your book apparently revealed that McCain turned the lights out on Sarah and didn't allow her to give a concession speech. In light of this revelation, do you think there will be more division within the Republican ranks, between moderates and social conservatives?

Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe: Actually, it was later in the night (after McCain and Palin had already taken the stage for the last time together) that the lights were turned off on Palin. The idea of Palin giving a speech had already been vetoed by McCain, but when the VP candidate retook the stage, some of McCain's aides worried that she was about to give the speech after all, when really she just wanted to take pictures with her family. It is truly remarkable that the civil war within the campaign between the McCain and Palin camps reached this level.

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Long Island, N.Y.: What did her foes say about her that surprised you the most?

Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe: Despite our knowledge of how divisive Sarah Palin could be, we were shocked by the level of vitriol that existed in Alaska, where we spent several weeks conducting interviews after her VP campaign. Several Alaskans did not hesitate to criticize Palin on everything from her work ethic to her parenting skills. It was clear to us that this was far from a happy environment for her to return to.

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New York, N.Y. : Do you think Palin knows how divisive and polarizing she is and how does she feel about it? Is she surprised at how fiercely she is despised by liberals and/or upset by it, or does she not care at all ?

Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe: We don't think that Sarah Palin really does entirely understand how polarizing she is. You have to remember that everywhere Palin went on the campaign trail, she was greeted by adoring crowds of tens of thousands of people. She clearly enjoys the adulation and is convinced that SHE is right and THEY are wrong. One thing we've noticed is that her skin has not seemed to thickened, even though she has been under such close scrutiny for over a year now. Former staffers told us that on the campaign plane, she would constantly watch negative television coverage, and she continues to feel the need to react to almost every perceived slight. Remember that she cited "anonymous bloggers" as one of the reasons why she resigned from the governorship, which is a remarkable admission, considering she once bravely took on Alaska's all-powerful oil companies as governor.

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Stillwater, Okla.: Were you close to her when the Tina Fey impersonations on SNL happened? What was her honest reaction? How close do YOU think was Tina to the real Sarah?

Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe: We were on the campaign plane descending into Colorado when the first Tina Fey skit aired. Believe us, the laughs were coming both from the press section and from the front of the plane where Palin's staffers sat. Some of us wondered for a split second whether Palin had somehow snuck off the plane and made it to the SNL studio! We learned in our research that Palin actually pleaded with the campaign to let her appear on the show for weeks before they finally allowed her to do so. The skit that was drawn up by senior adviser Jason Recher would have been far funnier than the one the show actually aired, in our opinion. He thought that Palin should play a clueless journalist who would ask Fey (as Palin) ridiculous questions about Alaska, such as "If there's no moose to hunt, how do you eat?" Instead, the show's producers decided to go with a more watered down skit.

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Knoxville, Tenn.: Does Sarah Palin want to be president of the United States? Will she eventually run?

Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe: Yes, we think she does. When most potential presidential candidates are asked if they have White House ambitions four years before the next election, they are coy. Not Palin. She said in more than one interview right after the '08 campaign that she would "crash through" any doors that opened for her in 2012. Throughout her life, Palin has been underestimated. Anyone who writes her off does so at his or her own peril.

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Trust Factor: Palin has quit most or all of the offices she has been elected to hold. In addition, she is fairly iffy when it comes to showing up at speaking engagements she has committed to attending (somehow it was always a mistake, she never really gave a final approval to show). Strikes me as a irresponsible if not downright flakey. How is she still able to have so many so rabidly devoted to her?

Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe: Palin really has an uncanny ability to connect with people. Many of her greatest admirers will continue to support her no matter what career decisions she makes. They like her because of who she is. She's a mom. She's down to earth. She even kills her own dinner on occasion. That natural ability to relate to people should not be underestimated. Having said all that, if she does decide to run for president, she will have a lot more explaining to do regarding why she resigned so suddenly, with a year-and-a-half left in her term. We can certainly expect any opponents to remind voters of that very unexpected decision.

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Menlo Park, Calif.: I find Sarah Palin amusing and I can see that she might be an effective public servant in a small town; however, it's beyond me that anyone would consider her qualified for a national public office. Granted, my views -- political and otherwise, are the polar opposite of hers, but my objection is her lack of substance. Her arrogance is breath-taking and her lack of knowledge of world events/geography is downright scary. Where do you think she gets all the confidence?

Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe: Her confidence is palpable. It's something that really struck us on the campaign trail, as it did many of her aides. It's been a tremendous asset for her but has also proven to be a liability at times. For instance, we learned that Palin did not adequately prepare for what turned out to be the disastrous Katie Couric interviews partially because she was overconfident. According to some of her aides, Palin's attention was focused on a questionnaire that had been sent to her by her local paper--The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman. It was an odd priority at the time, to say the least.

Where does she get it from? Maybe some of it is from her father--Chuck--who is very comfortable in his own skin. Some of it might also come from the fact that she was so successful in her career at such a young age. It's easy to lose sight of just how new to the national scene Palin is, but when she was inaugurated as governor, John McCain had already launched his presidential exploratory committee.

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New York: I never got the reasoning behind the 'Obama pals around with terrorists' thing. I mean, did Palin and McCain really believe that, and if so, what did they think it proved about him? That he likes terrorists? It always seemed designed to appeal to ignoramuses, and demeaned her and the campaign.

Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe: It was certainly a line that Palin relished delivering. She truly did seem to believe that it was relevant, even though the very New York Times article she cited concluded that Obama and Ayers were never close. She actually wanted to go after Obama on the Reverend Wright issue, since she thought it was even more pertinent than the Bill Ayers case, but McCain had declared Wright off limits. Still, Palin asked senior aides again and again why they were not talking about Wright, much to the aides' annoyance.

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Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe: We have to run, but thank you for all of the great questions, and we're sorry we couldn't get to all of them. We hope you enjoy the book!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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