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Alaskan students ponder Palin in the White House

Clay Wertheimer '10 was so accustomed to strange questions about his home that he used to introduce himself with the line, "ask me about polar bears."

"Now when I introduce myself," said the native of Juneau, Alaska, "I say 'ask me about Sarah Palin.' "

The 49th state has been getting a lot of attention recently, and not for its usual quirky reasons. Since the August announcement that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin would be Sen. John McCain's vice presidential running mate, the country has turned its political eye to the former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and the work she has done in her home state.

Back on campus, Brown's Alaskans have found themselves having to answer political questions on top of the usual odd queries.

"When you get back to school," said Greg Hunter '09 from Sitka, Alaska, "people ask 'so how was your summer - so what do you think of Sarah Palin?' "

Elected governor of Alaska in2006, Palin is known for her social conservatism and stamping out corruption - even within her own party - and enjoys an approval rating among Alaskans of more than 80 percent, according to some polls. For several Alaskans at Brown, the general consensus is that Palin is a good governor, but not experienced enough to be vice president.

"She is a fresh face," said Michelle Snyder '09.5 from Dillingham, Alaska. Palin's visit to Dillingham is the only time Snyder has met any of the current candidates for executive office. She said, "It makes her more real to me than all the other candidates."

Wertheimer said most Alaskans are with Palin on many political issues. "People in Alaska like social conservatism," he said.

One common conservative position that Palin holds strongly is her support of offshore oil drilling. Before she was governor she was chairwoman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in 2003.

Anne Krapu '10, an international relations concentrator who studied for a year at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, pointed to the political importance of Alaska's oil industry in an e-mail to The Herald.

"Negotiating with the oil industry (is) a major issue for the state of Alaska," she wrote. "But outside of that, corruption is probably the largest issue."

Palin's record on both issues have boosted her popularity among Alaskans. "She is certainly a step up from (former governor Frank)Murkowski," said Samantha Angaiak '09, who is from Bethel, Alaska.

"Alaska likes Palin because Alaska has suffered from all the good old boys, and she is not a good old boy," Wertheimer said.

But though she has a high approval rating in Alaska, many Brown Alaskans have questioned whether she can be an effective vice president.

"She just doesn't have the experience," Snyder said. "I don't think she's ready for it."

"It is going to be a really big shock for her to go from Alaska to Washington," said Richard Stein '10, a native of Sitka, Alaska.

Assistant Professor of Political Science Jennifer Lawless, who ran for Congress in 2006 as a Democrat, said Palin was picked more for what she stands for than for her experience.

"Obviously everybody was very surprised with McCain's pick," she said, but added that Palin's strengths complement McCain's weaknesses. "First, she is very socially conservative," Lawless said. For those with reservations about McCain's positions on drilling or abortion, "Sarah Palin quells their anxiety."

"Secondly, she can resonate with blue-collar workers," she added. "Third, she is a woman. McCain's campaign has tried to capitalize on Hillary Clinton's 18 million supporters."

Palin appeared on national television for the first time as the vice presidential nominee last Wednesday, September 3, at the Republican National Convention. Lawlesscalled this appearance a success for Palin's party.. "She did an excellent job of rallying the base," Lawless said, but added that her speech was not geared toward swing voters and was therefore not effective at courting blue-collar workers who supported Clinton.

Her speech was characterized by strong statements such as "By the way, do you know, they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick," and "My fellow citizens, the American presidency is not suppose to be a journey of personal discovery."

"She is charismatic enough to make those punches," said Krapu, the junior who studied at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks..

"Though I don't like her personally," she added, "I do appreciate the tough Alaskan woman vibe."

Regardless of their political views, Alaskan students at Brown seem to appreciate the way Palin's nomination has brought attention to their home state.

"The jokes are getting more relevant, more serious," Angaiak said. "It's no longer, 'Oh, do you live in an igloo?'"




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