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Report - US presidential election

Alaskans on Palin - is she in over her head?

Article published on the 2008-10-02 Latest update 2008-10-03 08:10 TU

Sarah Palin( Photo: Reuters )

Sarah Palin
( Photo: Reuters )

Democratic and Republican candidates for US vice-president face off in a televised debate on Thursday. Tune in to RFI’s website, where it will be transmitted live. Huge audiences are guaranteed in Alaska, the home state of Republican candidate, Sarah Palin. RFI reporter Donaig Ledu talked to Alaskans about their newly-famous Governor.

Palin faces an experienced debater and long-time Senator in her Democratic counterpart, Joe Biden. She and John McCain have tried to make a virtue of their supposed outsider status, happily accepting the label of “mavericks” and, in Palin’s case, vaunting her hockey mom credentials in her public speeches.

But in recent TV interviews, she failed to convince when asked about foreign policy and was less than clear when asked which newspapers she reads to keep up with political developments.

That has dampened the enthusiasm of Lorie, a neighbour of Palin’s in the town of Wassila, where she was mayor.

"She’s just what we call a typical Alaskan," Lorie told RFI. "A typical Alaskan when it’s minus 20° will still go outside whether you want to or not. They still love to go hiking, get out into the wilderness, help each other out -  when you see someone stuck up on the side of the road, you stop and you help them because you know if you don’t they could freeze to death. People are just more friendly."

Commenting on to Palin's human qualities, Lorie believes that Palin has put the Alaska on the map, where, she believes, some Americans did not believe it belonged. “I have friends in upstate New York who can’t believe we don’t live in igloos, we all don’t own dogsleds, that we actually have a Walmart down the road.”

“Now they realise that Alaska isn’t some little offshoot that can be ignored and we actually have a voice and we need to be heard,” she says. “We’re part of the United States just like Hawaii … even though we’re not physically attached.”

Palin neighbour, Lorie, speaks

02/10/2008 by Donaig Ledu

In the state capital, Anchorage, journalist Michael Carey told RFI there is a great deal of local enthusiasm.

People will watch it in the bars, just like it’s the superbowl or something,” he says. "It’s ‘Hey, we’re on TV!’ ... It’s our girl on our team.”

But now Carey thinks that Alaskans, like other Americans, are asking if Palin is experienced enough to be vice-president.

“Now I think there’s much more a question about is she really ready for this job, is she capable of doing this job,” he says. “Is she a woman you’d really want to be in charge in the middle of an economic crisis like the one we apparently are in?”

Maybe the candidacy makes no sense, he says, “except from the point of view, perhaps, of winning the election”.

Michael Carey, Anchorage Daily News

02/10/2008 by Donaig Ledu

“I think she’s way out of her league here,” Laura Chase, who worked with Palin when she was campaigning to become mayor of Wassila, told RFI. The two are clearly not close any more.

“I won’t vote for McCain, although I had planned on voting for him before he announced she should be the vice-presidential candidate,” says Chase. “I just won’t take that kind of a chance on contributing to putting her in the presidency. She’s not ready for it.”

The Republican: Laura Chase, Wassila

02/10/2008 by Donaig Ledu

“Sarah’s greatest strength is her confidence,” another Wassila resident, Ann Kilkenny, told RFI. “You know, the confidence that enabled her to unblinkingly accept the nomination is the confidence that is blinding her to her own lack of experience and background for this particular job.”

Kilkenny, a Democrat who used to attend city council meetings, admits that Palin is likeable.

“If the question is ‘Do you like Sarah?’, it doesn’t surprise me that she gets high approval ratings because she is very pleasant person to meet. She is smiling, she listens to you and makes you feel important. She has a lot of charisma.”

But she thinks that her confidence in her political abilities is declining, including in Alaska.

“If the question asked is ‘Do you agree with Sarah?’, you get a much different answer and that answer is changing,” she insists. “Since her nomination, she has lost 14 points in the approval ratings here in Alaska.”

The Democrat: Ann Kilkenny, Wassila

02/10/2008 by Donaig Ledu