On October 16, 2006, despite expectations that she’d be absent, Sarah Palin showed up. The occasion was a candidate’s forum sponsored by the Alaska Associations of Elementary and Secondary School Principals, taking place at their annual convention at the Anchorage Sheraton.
The state was in the end weeks of a topsy-turvy campaign that would eventually install Palin in the governor’s office. Public polling had showed her with a steady lead after trouncing incumbent governor Frank Murkowski in her party’s primary.
But Alaskan polls can be volatile, and the campaign of her Democratic opponent, former governor Tony Knowles, hinted that its internal polls were showing a much closer race. That day, Knowles and independent candidate Andrew Halcro planned to hold a joint press conference criticizing Palin’s pattern of avoiding public appearances. In late September, she missed a Chamber of Commerce debate, making a last minute decision to attend a National Guard ceremony instead. The next week, she withdrew from an event hosted by Alaska Native business leaders on the very day it was to be held, again claiming a scheduling conflict. (An email by a campaign advisor later surfaced that made it clear she’d withdrawn because her handlers felt the questions would be too difficult, and that they hadn’t had adequate time to brief her.)
The joint press conference was to take place just after the schools forum, but Palin’s unexpected appearance forced her opponents to cancel. In the end, the Associated Press described the forum as a “low-key question-and-answer session.”
But “low-key” would not be the first words evoked by a campaign document distributed by Palin that day, and obtained by CJR. Here’s how it begins:
‘Who’s Your Daddy?” Great question! I see that I got a “thumbs down? On the Anchorage Daily News Sunday scoreboard with an accompanying insinuation that I may not have the appropriate dad to allow me a particular public service role.
And so it goes on for two full pages, without a single mention of education policy. Sarah Palin, writing in the first person, defends her father against this alleged attack from the Anchorage Daily News, the state’s largest paper. In a sincere but defensive tone, she cites his volunteer work, the strength of the family he raised, his outdoorsmanship, and, key for an education crowd, his longtime service as a science teacher and high school coach in Wasilla.
Chuck Heath does sound like a good guy, and you can’t blame anyone, gubernatorial candidate or not, for sticking up for their dad when the paper takes a swipe. But what, exactly, had the Daily News written about Palin’s father?
Sarah Palin’s first foray into state politics came in 2002 when she narrowly lost a Republican primary for lieutenant governor. Senator Frank Murkowski, who had represented the state in the Senate since 1981, had returned to head the ticket as the party’s gubernatorial nominee.
After winning the election, Murkowski resigned his Senate seat, was sworn in as governor, and then faced the privilege of selecting his own successor. After announcing twenty-five Alaskans he said he was considering (a list that included Palin), Frank Murkowski chose his daughter, State Representative Lisa Murkowski, for the seat. He later appointed Palin to the state’s Oil and Gas Commission.
Amid charges of nepotism, Frank Murkowski quickly became one of the nation’s most unpopular governors; in a pointed rebuke two years later, a ballot initiative removed the position’s right to fill senate vacancies. By the summer of 2003, Palin and several others were being mentioned as potential intra-party challengers to Lisa Murkowski, who would face election to a full term in November 2004.
On July 17, 2003, the Anchorage Daily News fronted a story highlighting Murkowski’s campaign war chest, which, only seven months into her senate term, held a healthy $934,000.
The following weekend, the Anchorage Daily News ran its regular Sunday feature, “Who’s Up, Who’s Down,” a cheers and jeers style charticle. Here were the first three items that day:
UP - Scott Gomez: A second tour with Lord Stanley’s Cup brings heavenly days for our hometown Devil.
UP - U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski: Almost $1 million in the campaign kitty already, and ready to roll.