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Gov. Sarah Palin

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.
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By Amy Goldstein and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 30, 2008

She has been known, at times, as "Sarah Barracuda."

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It began with her ferocity on the high school basketball court. As co-captain her senior year, Sarah Palin was a point guard who made the final free throw that won the Wasilla Warriors their first state championship.

A decade later, the nickname resurfaced when she was a 28-year-old political novice on the Wasilla City Council. She turned on a veteran council member who had coaxed her to run for office, blocking a bill that would have steered business to his garbage-hauling firm.

The moniker was revived once again in 2003, when Alaska's governor, whom she would later unseat, appointed her to a state oil-and-gas commission. As a brand-new member, she challenged the ethics of the panel's leader, the chairman of state's Republican Party, forcing him ultimately to resign.

Since long before she became Alaska's youngest -- and first female -- governor 20 months ago, Sarah Louise Heath Palin has been making her mark as an unlikely upstart. Yesterday, she did it again, accepting Sen. John McCain's surprise offer to be his running mate.

Palin, a 44-year-old mother of five who hunts caribou and was once a beauty queen, rose to the statehouse by challenging the corruption that has become endemic in Alaska, even if it meant taking on the Republican establishment there, including the former governor and the state's congressional delegation.

Although her résumé does not fit the mold of most vice presidential nominees, her acts of dissidence appear to have endeared her to McCain, who regards himself as an independent-minded Republican. Her evangelical Christian faith -- she believes in creationism and is adamantly opposed to abortion -- may help him court skeptical social conservatives. And the fact that her eldest son joined the Army and is leaving soon for Iraq reinforces McCain's own military heroism.

Her swift ascent to the governorship, and now to a vice presidential nomination, is regarded by some in Alaska as a case of fortunate timing, for someone who possesses the right outsider's tactics at the right political moment. Others cite driving ambition and instinctive opportunism -- a willingness to turn on political patrons to get ahead.

One of her central gubernatorial campaign pledges -- to clean up the state's government -- has been called into question by critics because of an investigation into whether the state public safety commissioner was fired because he refused requests to dismiss a state trooper who had been married to her younger sister.

Although her name had been murmured as a possible long-shot running mate, it was only last month that she told an interviewer on CNBC: "As for that VP talk all the time, I tell you, I still can't answer that question until someone answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day."

Even her press secretary sounded startled by the choice. "The chattering had been out there," Bill McAllister said in an interview yesterday morning. "But I had no sense of momentum to it."

Born in Idaho, Palin became an Alaskan as an infant when her parents, Chuck and Sally Heath, hauled their young family and their belongings up the Alaskan Highway in search of adventure. They settled eventually in Wasilla, about 45 miles north of Anchorage. Palin's official biography describes it as a place with a "reputation for junky yards and cranky land-owners who didn't mind using the serious end of a shotgun to run off trespassers." Ivan Moore, a veteran political pollster in Anchorage, described Wasilla as "the most fearsomely conservative region of the state."

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