FACT: Palin For The Bridge to Nowhere

A new ad from John McCain’s presidential campaign contends his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, “stopped the Bridge to Nowhere.” In fact, Palin was for the infamous bridge before she was against it


THE SPIN: Called “Original Mavericks,” the ad asserts the Republican senator has fought pork-barrel spending, the drug industry and fellow Republicans, reforming Washington in the process, and credits Palin with similarly changing Alaska by taking on the oil industry, challenging her own party and ditching the bridge project that became a national symbol of wasteful spending.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton came back with fighting words. “Despite being discredited over and over again by numerous news organizations, the McCain campaign continues to repeat the lie that Sarah Palin stopped the Bridge to Nowhere,” he said.

Burton said McCain would merely carry on supporting President Bush’s economic, health, education, energy and foreign policies, and that means “anything but change.”

THE FACTS: Palin did abandon plans to build the nearly $400 million bridge from Ketchikan to an island with 50 residents and an airport. But she made her decision after the project had become an embarrassment to the state, after federal dollars for the project were pulled back and diverted to other uses in Alaska, and after she had appeared to support the bridge during her campaign for governor.

McCain and Palin together have told a broader story about the bridge that is misleading. She is portrayed as a crusader for the thrifty use of tax dollars who turned down an offer from Washington to build an expensive bridge of little value to the state.

“I told the Congress ‘thanks but no thanks’ for that Bridge to Nowhere,” she said in her convention speech last week.

That’s not what she told Alaskans when she announced a year ago that she was ordering state transportation officials to ditch the project. Her explanation then was that it would be fruitless to try to persuade Congress to come up with the money.

“It’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island,” Palin said then.

Palin indicated during her 2006 campaign for governor that she supported the bridge, but was wishy-washy about it. She told local officials that money appropriated for the bridge “should remain available for a link, an access process as we continue to evaluate the scope and just how best to just get this done.”

She vowed to defend Southeast Alaska “when proposals are on the table like the bridge and not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that’s so negative” — something that McCain was busy doing at the time, as a fierce critic of the bridge.

Even so, she called the bridge design “grandiose” during her campaign and said something more modest might be appropriate.

Palin’s reputation for standing up to entrenched interests in Alaska is genuine. Her self-description as a leader who “championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress” is harder to square with the facts.

The governor has cut back on pork-barrel project requests, but in her two years in office, Alaska has requested nearly $750 million in special federal spending, by far the largest per-capita request in the nation. And as mayor of Wasilla, Palin hired a lobbyist and traveled to Washington annually to support earmarks for the town totaling $27 million.

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MCCAIN THE MAVERICK

John McCain has an impressive personal story. Imprisoned by the North Vietnamese for five and a half years, mostly in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” he showed great courage, resilience and reservoirs of strength. It is the central narrative of his life, a theme he returns to again and again.


In choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, McCain picked another politician with an interesting personal narrative. Hers isn’t heroic — as his is — but it is still inspiring. A mother of five, she overcame long odds to oust the entrenched Republican governor in 2006. When she and her husband learned their fifth child would be born with Down syndrome, they didn’t terminate the pregnancy. That’s a decision I and many other Americans find admirable.

McCain hopes those compelling biographies will be enough to take him and his running mate over the line in November. Since personality matters as much as (and sometimes more than) policies — George W. Bush was elected in 2000 because he was Mr. Congeniality — the Arizona senator has decided to give short shrift to issues and go all out on charming personal stories.

“This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates,” his campaign manager, Rick Davis, told The Washington Post last week.

So it’s no surprise McCain’s acceptance speech on Thursday night was heavy on biography and short on policy prescriptions. The short film that introduced him offered a romantic, Hollywood-esque arc: A rambunctious young man trying to earn his place in a family of war heroes goes off to the Naval Academy and becomes a fighter pilot; he is chastened by the torture he endures at the hands of his enemies; the young hero not only survives but triumphs, winning a seat in the U.S. Senate. It’s quite a tale, with the added dimension of truth.

McCain seemed most comfortable when he was speaking of the ideals he embraced in those years — honor, service, courage. But he was oddly lifeless and unconvincing when he rattled off a laundry list of domestic issues, touching on “school choice,” health insurance and taxes. That’s clearly not where his heart is.

Even less persuasive was his attempt to snatch the mantle of change from his rival, Barack Obama. (How many times did he use the word “change”?) McCain is 72 years old; besides, he is a card-carrying member of the Republican Party, which has held power for the last eight years. It’s hard to run as an insurgent if you’ve been part of the establishment.

The aging war hero apparently believes that he is still the “maverick,” the daring, even swashbuckling, senator who bucks a Republican machine to serve the interests of the people above the party — a “Mr. Smith” played by John Wayne instead of Jimmy Stewart. But that McCain gave up the good fight after his crushing defeat at the hands of Bush forces in the 2000 Republican presidential primary. Since then, the “maverick” has set about ingratiating himself to the same establishment he now vows to fight. He has adopted nearly every one of Bush’s failed policies.

Don’t be fooled by Palin. She’s just a fresh face to rev up the culture wars. She opposes abortion, even in cases of rape and incest; she urged an Alaska librarian to ban books; she believes “creationism” should be taught in public schools; she asked ministry students at her former church to pray for a plan to build a $30 billion natural gas pipeline in the state, calling it “God’s will.” In choosing her, McCain caved in to the rigid Christianists who now form the core of the GOP.

Still, his gamble could well pay off. Even in a year when voters say they agree with Democrats on most issues, the polls still show the presidential contenders virtually tied. It’s a very close race.

No wonder. The John McCain on display as he closed his speech, speaking passionately of duty and sacrifice, is still a compelling figure. That McCain, who has not always been on display this season, is a man who wants to resist partisanship, a man who wants to clean up corruption, a man who would shrink from the vicious attacks his campaign has, in fact, run against Obama. If voters believe in that McCain and think that’s all the country needs, he wins.

But if the campaign is fought on the issues, McCain loses. That’s why he stays away from them.

Obama VS McCain: 7 Things To Watch

As Barack Obama and John McCain go barreling neck-and-neck into the homestretch, advisers for both men know one thing for certain: Nothing is.

More so than any presidential race in recent history, this one may be determined by forces beyond the control of either candidate.

How far will housing values fall? How far will oil prices rise? Will violence in Iraq erase the gains of the surge? Will Israel attack Iran? Will one of the Big Three automakers go bankrupt? Which neighbor will Russia attack next? Which bank will fail? Will terrorists strike the United States again?

It’s impossible to predict much about this race, but here are seven things to watch as the unknowns become knowns:


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1. Will Obama profit from pain?

Voters say the economy is their number one concern — and in nearly every poll Barack Obama enjoys a substantial, but not commanding, 10- to 15-point advantage on economic issues.

He’s doing better than John Kerry or Al Gore did on the economy, he fares best in battleground states. A Democracy Corps survey taken during the GOP convention gave Obama an 11-point edge on the economy nationwide but a 15-point lead in swing states including Ohio, Nevada, Florida and Virginia.

But Obama hasn’t been able to translate that advantage into big leads over McCain in the states hit hardest by the economic downtown. In fact, the race has tightened in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and hard-hit Michigan — despite McCain’s support of unpopular free trade agreements, his less-than enthusiastic support of the housing bailout, his own profession of ignorance on economic matters and ample connections to Big Oil.

Race and class issues are probably sapping Obama’s support. But he’s also been hurt by nagging questions about his leadership experience as the GOP tries to shift the election from a referendum on Republican economic policies to a test of whether Obama is up to the job of president.

“The two immoveable objects in this campaign are that Bush takes the blame for the economy and that the economy favors the Democrats,” says Michael Dimock, associate director of the Pew Research Center. “But it’s now coming down to the question of Obama’s leadership and capability . . . . McCain doesn’t have to win on the economy, just mitigate its impact, and reframe the issue as one about leadership.”

Added a Democratic pollster: “Don’t look at the unemployment rate. The key metric is the percentage of voters who think Obama is ready to lead. So far, that’s been around 50 to 58 percent. If that number stabilizes in the mid-50s, he’ll win.”

Then there’s the “bitter” pill. The Illinois senator spent his teen years on Food Stamps, but he’s had real trouble making white blue-collar Democrats believe that he feels their pain. And Republicans aren’t letting voters forget his claim that working-class voters are so “bitter” they cling to God and guns.

2. Has Palin Peaked?

Sarah Palin’s addition to the ticket probably exceeded her running mate’s wildest expectations: McCain has turned an eight-point deficit in the Gallup daily tracking poll into a three-point lead.

But McCain’s campaign has so far been able to protect Palin from any downside. Palin appeared before adoring crowds in the lower 48 last week, but she did so with the help of TelePrompters and under the protection of a journalist no-fly zone. On Sunday, the McCain campaign – facing increasing pressure — announced that Palin would have a sit-down with ABC’s Charlie Gibson.

How will the Alaska governor hold up under a grilling about the future of NATO, the mortgage securitization crisis or Troopergate? Joe Lieberman is reportedly giving her a rushed tutorial on foreign policy, but the potential for embarrassment remains significant despite Palin’s poise, sense of humor and innate smarts.

Some GOP analysts fret that her popularity has nowhere to go but down, as moderate women become more familiar with her staunch anti-abortion stance. And some are concerned that the conservative evangelicals who make up the party’s base — so jazzed by Palin’s selection — could sink back into a funk when they remember that Palin was just an appetizer while McCain remains the main course.

3. Can Joe Biden avoid the curse of Rick Lazio?


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Palin’s biggest test comes on Oct. 2 in St. Louis, when she faces Joe Biden in what is certain to be the most eagerly anticipated and probably the most-viewed veep debate ever.

Biden hopes to portray the Alaska governor as a neo-Dan Quayle, an out-of-depth amateur unfit to serve as president. But perils abound for the verbose, occasionally overbearing Biden, who must negotiate a gender minefield Rick Lazio blundered into during his disastrous debate against Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2000.

“I’d love to be a fly on the wall in Joe Biden’s dressing room that night,” says Michael Franc of the conservative Heritage Foundation. “They are really going to coach him to restrain himself.”

4. The presidential candidates debate, too.

Until McCain picked Palin, the trio of presidential debates — scheduled for Sept. 26 at Ole Miss, Oct. 7 in Nashville and Oct. 15 in Long Island – seemed likely to the defining moments in the fall campaign. They still are.

“The margins are so tight and voters have so many questions about both guys. The potential for a major, game-changing slip-up is huge,” says Democratic consultant Jefrey Pollack.

Adds former Clinton pollster Geoff Garin: “The debates are the story this year… Voters need to take [the candidates’] temperature.”

Neither candidate is exactly a master of the form. McCain does best when he’s cracking collegial jokes, but he’s prone to missteps and shows unattractive flashes of anger from time to time. Obama is a polished performer but sometimes comes across as condescending or professorial. He makes his own share of mistakes, including the comment — during the recent Saddleback Forum — that a question about when life begins was above his “pay grade.” Over the weekend, Obama said his response to the question had been too flip, and that what he really meant was that he doesn’t “presume to be able to answer these kinds of theological questions.”

5. Will Hillary really help?

Obama needs Hillary Clinton on the trail – less to offset Palin than to deliver working-class whites who became her base during the primaries.

Exactly how much she’ll be used is up in the air. Obama’s people have presented Clinton with a list of places and dates. She’s amenable – under two conditions. First, she refuses to be a “Sarah Palin attack dog,” according to a person close to her. Second, she wants Obama campaign events to coincide with fundraisers to retire her $20 million-plus debt.

And what role will Bill Clinton play?

6. Wright back at you.

Obama complains that he didn’t much in the way of economic solutions at the Republican Convention. There’s something else he didn’t hear much: the name of Reg. Jeremiah Wright.

That won’t last.

It’s possible that McCain himself will attack Obama over his longtime relationship with the firebrand former preacher, but it’s far more likely that independent groups will run ads and barrage white, working-class voters with Wright-Obama emails during the homestretch.

And those same groups won’t be shy about dwelling on Obama’s more tenuous link to former Weather Underground radical Bill Ayers.

7. Will Mount McCain erupt?

When Democratic operatives were gaming out a race against McCain earlier this year, one thing seemed certain to work in their favor: At some point, McCain would blow a gasket and undo months of political anger management.

A lot of Democrats still think it will happen, citing high-profile McCain blow-ups like his May 2007 tussle with Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn and noting that McCain seems to get more irascible when he’s fatigued.

“The anger issue raises questions about his age – and when you get right down to it, that’s Obama’s greatest weapon against him,” said a Democratic consultant.

McCain & Obama Joint 9/11 Plans

Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama said yesterday that they would put aside partisan politics for a joint appearance at ground zero to mark the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The Democratic and Republican presidential nominees, in a statement, said they would appear together at the World Trade Center site on Thursday “to honor the memory of each and every American who died” in the 2001 attacks.

The campaigns already had agreed to suspend television advertising critical of each other on Sept. 11. The McCain campaign has said it will air no ads that day.

Both campaigns have been running negative television ads and, at the just-concluded political conventions, pulled no punches in exploiting partisan differences.

Obama and McCain said Thursday would be different.

“All of us came together on 9/11 – not as Democrats or Republicans – but as Americans,” they said. “We were united as one American family. On Thursday, we will put aside politics and come together to renew that unity.”

A group backing community service, MyGoodDeed.org, wants Sept. 11 to become a national day of voluntary service and had asked that Obama and McCain perform acts of community service instead of campaigning.


Sarah Palin Affair Rumors Are False

“The smearing of the Palin family must end,” said McCain senior adviser Steve Schmidt. “The allegations contained on the cover of the National Enquirer insinuating that Gov Palin had an extramarital affair are categorically false. It is a vicious lie.

“The efforts of the media and tabloids to destroy this fine and accomplished public servant are a disgrace. The American people will reject it.”

The Enquirer also alleges that Palin, whose daughter Bristol, 17, is pregnant, unjustly fired a public safety official while she was governor of Alaska. The article was based entirely on unnamed sources and the magazine often pays sources to speak to them.

“Senator McCain and Governor Palin look forward to discussing the issues that Americans care about, fixing broken government, creating jobs, making our country energy independent and securing the peace for the next generation by bringing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to a victorious end,” Mr Schmidt continued.

“Legal action will be considered with regard to this disgraceful smear.”


But the Enquirer was recently vindicated after its long-running pursuit of John Edwards, a former Democratic presidential candidate, ended with him admitting he had conducted an extra-marital affair with a filmmaker he had met in a bar in New York and later employed on his campaign.

The Enquirer responded: “The National Enquirer’s coverage of a vicious war within Sarah Palin’s extended family includes several newsworthy revelations, including the resulting incredible charge of an affair plus details of family strife when the Governor’s daughter revealed her pregnancy.

“Following our John Edwards exclusives, our political reporting has obviously proven to be more detail-oriented than the McCain campaign’s vetting process. Despite the McCain camp’s attempts to control press coverage they find unfavorable, The Enquirer will continue to pursue news on both sides of the political spectrum.”

Obama and McCain: 1st Job is Lowering Taxes

Job No. 1 for the next president? In the minds of an overwhelming number of Americans, it’s fixing what ails the sick economy. What the voters will have to sort out are very different approaches offered by Barack Obama and John McCain.

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Both of their fix-up plans rely heavily on tax cuts, but in sharply different ways that speak to the historic differences between Democrats and Republicans.

McCain, borrowing a page from Ronald Reagan and President Bush, would keep tax rates low for higher-income taxpayers and slash rates for corporations, arguing that this is the way to jump-start a lethargic economy and create more jobs.

Obama, focusing on a theme of many past Democratic campaigns, seeks to target his help to the squeezed middle class and address the growing income inequality between rich and poor. He would retain all of the Bush tax cuts for families making less than $250,000 a year, but would do away with Bush’s cuts for people making more than that.

The money raised from tax increases on the wealthy would be redirected by Obama to tax relief for lower-income Americans.

Unlike a lot of campaign debates where the promises of neither side get enacted into law, this war of words will make a difference because all of Bush’s tax cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of 2010.

Since neither party wants to go back to the tax rates in effect before 2001, whoever wins will have to work with Congress to pass legislation shaping how the tax code will look beyond 2010. At stake will be billions of dollars.

Under Obama, the wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers, those making roughly $600,000 or more, would see their taxes go up on average by $93,709 in 2009, according to an analysis done by the Tax Policy Center, because Obama would begin implementing his tax changes even before the scheduled expiration of the Bush cuts.


Under McCain, those same taxpayers would see an average reduction of $48,860, reflecting in part additional cuts he is proposing.

By contrast, the bottom 20 percent of taxpayers, those with taxable income of roughly $19,000 per year or less, would see their taxes cut by an average of $567 under Obama’s program and $21 under McCain’s plan, the tax center estimates.

For the 20 percent of taxpayers right in the middle of the income scale, making roughly between $37,600 and $66,400, the tax break would be $1,118 under the Obama plan and $325 under the McCain plan in 2009, according to the analysis done by the tax center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, two Washington think tanks.

In addition to tax cuts, both presidential candidates are out promising voters a lot of programs in the areas of health care, energy and education.

But the outlook for the federal budget is much darker now than in 2000. In that year, candidate Bush traveled the country promoting across-the-board tax cuts as a way to fix what ailed America in the wake of a sudden slowdown in growth and a bursting of the bubble in high-tech stocks.

With the Congressional Budget Office and others forecasting record-breaking surpluses totaling $5.6 trillion over the decade, it seemed like a good idea to a lot of Washington policymakers to return a part of those surpluses in the form of a $1.35 trillion tax cut passed in 2001 and a follow-up measure in 2003.

The problem was that the surplus forecast turned out to be wildly inaccurate because of an unforeseen recession that began in 2001 just as Bush was taking office and the soaring costs of fighting a global war on terror that began in the wake of terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The federal books were in the black in 2001 — for the fourth consecutive year — but since then, the U.S. has returned to running huge deficits, including the largest in history in dollar terms, a $413 billion imbalance in 2004.

Now, with the government pumping out $106.7 billion to Americans in stimulus payments to keep all the problems in housing and the credit markets from pushing the country into a deep recession, the deficits are surging again.

The CBO predicts a $400 billion imbalance this year, and the administration is forecasting that the deficit for the next budget year that begins Oct. 1 will hit an all-time high of $482 billion.

That forecast doesn’t include the cost of the government takeover announced by the administration on Sunday of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That effort, which has the potential of adding tens of billions of dollars to the deficits in the short run, won the qualified backing of both Obama and McCain.

The CBO’s current forecast for the next decade doesn’t look that bad on paper, projecting the budget will go into the black in 2012, giving the country a small surplus of $270 billion over the next 10 years.

However, that forecast comes with a warning label. The CBO has to make its estimates based on current law, which has the Bush tax cuts expiring after 2010 and makes no provisions for further outlays to keep the Alternative Minimum Tax on the wealthy from hitting millions of middle-income taxpayers, a huge expense every year.

The economic plans that McCain and Obama have put forward do include the billions needed to deal with the AMT plus extending the Bush tax cuts. McCain would extend all of them except the total elimination of the estate tax, while Obama would extend only the cuts for individual taxpayers making less than $200,000 annually or couples making less than $250,000.

With those big-ticket tax cuts plus the impact of other changes in the tax code included, McCain’s plans would slash revenues by $4.2 trillion over the next decade while Obama’s reduction would be a slightly smaller $2.9 trillion. Both would transform the CBO’s small surplus over the 10-year period into big deficits, according to the tax center.

The two campaigns argue that it is not fair to hold them to the unrealistic CBO baseline. Rather, the campaigns like to compare their proposals to a current policy baseline which assumes the Bush tax cuts are extended and the AMT is patched every year. Under that baseline, according to the tax center, McCain’s plan would cut taxes by $596 billion over the next decade; Obama’s would increase taxes by $627 billion during the same period, reflecting the fact that Obama is raising tax rates on the wealthy and boosting the taxes they pay on dividends and capital-gains earnings. Obama is also not embracing McCain’s proposal to cut the top rate on corporate taxes.

Regardless of the baseline used, the government’s debt would go up sharply — by $3.5 trillion under the Obama plan and by $5 trillion over the next decade under McCain’s plan, the tax center estimates.

While both campaigns argue they are not getting enough credit for their plans to cut spending, history shows that campaigns always pledge to pay for their tax cuts but seldom achieve that goal because spending cuts prove much more difficult to get through Congress.

And how about the overall goals — McCain’s effort to give the country a boost by cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations and Obama’s efforts to narrow income inequality?

Economists say there are things to like in both programs. They generally favor reductions in top rates as a way to spur new investment and job creation, so on that point McCain’s program gets good marks. However, there are worries that the higher deficits that are expected because of the tax cuts could drive up interest rates, raising the cost of money for businesses and result in less investment, not more.

For Obama, the concern is that all of his new and expanded tax credits, such as his “Making Work Pay” refundable credit which would provide low-income workers with a maximum of $500 per individual and $1,000 per family, will further complicate an already complex tax system and won’t make a very big dent in the problems of income inequality.

And neither candidate is talking very much about tackling what all experts see as the biggest budgetary challenge facing the next president — the explosion in the government’s big benefit programs for Social Security and Medicare as the baby boomers retire.

Obama has proposed levying a 2 percent to 4 percent tax on payroll earnings above $250,000 a decade from now to deal with Social Security, but experts say that would fix only a small part of the problem with the pension program. And neither campaign has put forward any proposals that experts say would make a meaningful dent in fixing Medicare, the far bigger entitlement problem because of soaring health care costs.

Some experts see tax increases, not cuts, in the country’s future regardless of who wins the presidency.

“We are starting out with very big deficits, and the demographics are turning more unfavorable with all the baby boomer retirements,” said Nigel Gault, senior economist at Global Insight, a Lexington, Mass., forecasting firm. “The deeper you get into the next presidency, the more likelihood that taxes will have to be raised.”

Politics And Motherhood

The New York Times front-pages how Palin went from hiding her most recent pregnancy to showcasing the child at the GOP convention. “No one has ever tried to combine presidential politics and motherhood in quite the way Ms. Palin is doing, and it is no simple task. In the last week, the criticism she feared in Alaska has exploded into a national debate. On blogs and at PTA meetings, voters alternately cheer and fault her balancing act, and although many are thrilled to see a child with special needs in the spotlight, some accuse her of exploiting Trig for political gain.”


The Washington Post, meanwhile, writes how the Palin pick has energized GOP voters in Virginia (although the article suggests that the state GOP doesn’t seem to be all that well organized).

The New York Times’ Bill Kristol with not the greatest defense of the Palin pick: “Should voters be alarmed by a relatively young or inexperienced vice-presidential candidate? No. Since 1900, five vice presidents have succeeded to the presidency during their term in office: Teddy Roosevelt in 1901, Calvin Coolidge in 1923, Harry Truman in 1945, Lyndon Johnson in 1963, and Gerald Ford in 1974. Teddy Roosevelt took over at age 42, becoming our youngest president, and he’s generally thought to have proved up to the job. Truman was V.P. for less than three months and had been kept in the dark by Franklin Roosevelt about such matters as the atom bomb — and he’s generally thought to have risen to the occasion. Character, judgment and the ability to learn seem to matter more to success as president than the number of years one’s been in Washington.”

More: “Did McCain think Palin his very best possible successor? Perhaps not. Did Barack Obama think Biden the absolute cream of the Democratic crop? Perhaps not. They undoubtedly thought highly enough of their running mates to have confidence in their ability to take over their administration in case of incapacity or death. I think most voters will accept that basic judgment. But — shocking to say! — both Obama and McCain also took political considerations into account in making their selections.”


Bloomberg takes a look at her academic career. “Interviews with classmates paint a similar picture of Palin as an anonymous, though motivated and hard-working, student who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from the University of Idaho in 1987. She later told a campus publication that one of her best semesters was spent learning about broadcasting at a student-run Idaho television studio. ‘My sense from people is that she was an average student,’ said Kaylene Johnson, author of a biography, ‘Sarah’ (Epicenter Press, 2008). ‘I don’t know that she distinguished herself in college in any particular way.’”

“Palin, 44, made an impression on one college friend, Stacia Hagerty, who credits her conversion to Catholicism in part to discussions the two had as dorm mates at the University of Idaho’s Neely Hall. As a teenager, Palin had attended the Assembly of God Church in Wasilla, Alaska, and she encouraged her friend to commit time to church. ”

“Gov. Sarah Palin’s church is promoting a conference that promises to convert gays into heterosexuals through the power of prayer. ‘You’ll be encouraged by the power of God’s love and His desire to transform the lives of those impacted by homosexuality,’ according to the insert in the bulletin of the Wasilla Bible Church, where Palin has prayed for about six years. … Focus on the Family, a national Christian fundamentalist organization, is conducting the ‘Love Won Out’ Conference in Anchorage, about 30 miles from Wasilla.

“Palin has not publicly expressed a view on the so-called ‘pray away the gay’ movement. Larry Kroon, senior pastor at Palin’s church, was not available to discuss the matter, said a church worker who declined to give her name. Gay activists in Alaska said Palin has not worked actively against their interests, but early in her administration she supported a bill to overrule a court decision to block state benefits for gay partners of public employees.”

Lots of profiles this weekend, here’s what you need to know out of Newsweek. “Little of her experience will help Palin with the questions she’s sure to face in the days and weeks to come. The media (and presumably voters) will aim to find out what Palin believes, what her expertise is and whether she’s really prepared to be next in line for the most powerful job on the planet. At last week’s Republican convention, the former sportscaster proved she can deliver a terrific speech (written by Matthew Scully, who wrote some of George W. Bush’s more memorable lines). But journalists are clamoring for a chance to question her directly. She’ll need to have cogent views on Iraq, to know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites (which McCain himself has occasionally confused) and the distinctions between Hizbullah and Al Qaeda. She’ll be asked about Iran’s nuclear program and China’s growing power, about the national debt, the subprime mortgage crisis, America’s trade imbalance and the value of the dollar against foreign currencies.”

”Palin started intense tutorials last week in a suite of the Hilton Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. Stephen Biegun, a longtime foreign-policy hand who last worked on George W. Bush’s National Security Council, ran what one participant called a ‘boot camp on McCain world.’ Biegun and others briefed her on international issues. McCain’s top domestic-policy adviser, economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, led other sessions. Before Holtz-Eakin even got started, Palin let him know that she likes to get her study points on large index cards. ‘What we have to do is take all our accumulated policy and John McCain’s entire Senate history and get her comfortable with the campaign,’ Holtz-Eakin told NEWSWEEK.”

”Others involved in the process say Palin has a long way to go, and they are watching closely to make sure she doesn’t get overwhelmed. Over the weekend before the convention, campaign aides made the uncomfortable decision to urge her to go public with her unmarried 17-year-old daughter’s pregnancy in order to rebut salacious Internet rumors that the teen was actually the mother of Palin’s own newborn child. An aide, speaking anonymously because the matter is sensitive, says that Palin and her husband grew angry about the allegations. “Do I have to show them my stretch marks?” she asked one campaign official. In the midst of the drama, Palin had little time to interact with her family because she was shuffling from one briefing or prep session to another. (In St. Louis, a campaign aide took Todd shopping at a Saks Fifth Avenue, where he bought a new suit to wear to the convention.) At one point McCain, himself tied up in campaign duties, asked an adviser, ‘Can you make sure she’s OK?’”

The Seattle Times digs through Palin’s record as mayor of Wasilla. “As much of Palin’s hometown rallies with pride around her, 1,400 miles away — in a National Archives warehouse in Seattle — three boxes of documents help capture the quality of her mayoral experience. These records, from a federal wrongful-termination lawsuit, include the minutiae of municipal governance, with memos to administrators and personnel records stamped ‘confidential.’ The documents, combined with accounts from her hometown newspaper, show how Palin’s first year as mayor could easily have been her last. She became embroiled in personnel challenges, a thwarted attempt to pack the City Council and a standoff with her local newspaper. Her first months were so contentious and polarizing that critics started talking recall.”

“Gov. Sarah Palin used state funds in June when she traveled from Juneau to Wasilla to speak to graduating evangelical students and urge them to fan out through Alaska ‘to make sure God’s will be done here,’” the Alaska Daily News writes. “State records show that Palin submitted a travel authorization for a quick round-trip visit to attend the June 8 graduation of the Master’s Commission program at the Wasilla Assembly of God, the church where she was baptized at age 12. The only other item on the agenda for that trip was a ‘One Lord Sunday’ service involving a network of Mat-Su Christian churches earlier that morning at the Wasilla sports complex.”