By Keith Epstein To Alaskans – both allies and adversaries – Sarah Palin, 44, is known as “Sarah Barracuda,” a nickname that goes back to her days as an aggressive basketball player. Noted the Anchorage Daily News in an Oct. 23, 2006 profile : “Supporters consider the name a testament to her aggressive play and ferocious defense. But opponents said the name capture a predatory instinct that Palin could turn on friend as well as foe.” Basketball was a major influence in her life, to tell by comments she’s made to reporters. “I know this sounds hokey,” she told the Anchorage paper, “but basketball was a life-changing experience for me,” and it taught her “about setting a goal, about discipline, teamwork, and then success.” Voters just might get to hear about it again now; reported the newspaper in 2006: “Palin has been telling interviewers about the 1982 state tournament at West High…for at least a decade, including the self-effacing line about its being ‘hokey.’”

Some personal details on the nominee, the first woman governor of the state known as the last frontier, suggest themes the Republicans will be able to underscore that align with party positions:

-- In April, she had a baby with Down syndrome; she chose to keep the baby and face the challenges involved rather than have an abortion.

-- In response to concerns about high energy costs, she proposed a $100 monthly debit card for Alaskans, subsidized by Alaska’s budget surplus.

-- She is the mother of a soldier who leaves for Iraq this September.

-- A member of the National Rifle Association, she hunts moose.

-- She eloped with her husband, who is a native Alaskan of the Yup’ik tribe. Todd Palin has been an oil field worker; he was a production operator on the North Slope for BP for some two decades.

McCain has certainly picked someone from well outside the Beltway who, like Obama, has a multi-ethnic, far-flung family history. Unlike Obama, McCain has chosen the first woman on a national ticket since Geraldine Ferraro was on the Democratic ticket in 1984 – something that suggests he’s reaching out to women. Hillary Clinton supporters won’t necessarily cross the divide, but female independents and Republicans just might be persuaded. Like McCain, Palin has cast herself as a reformer and an maverick outsider – and that has led to success in her home state.

The selection of Palin, who has only been in office since 2006, also seems to move issues of inexperience off the table, at least as far as Republicans criticizing Obama. Palin also has had a lot to learn – but has a personal touch. The Anchorage Daily News reported in 2006 that at a convention of chiropractors she “had little specific to offer on the group’s complicated legal and Medicaid questions.” Even so, “she showed her ability to relate to audiences in a personal, almost Clintonlike way.”

The McCain campaign, in a Aug. 29 statement just before their scheduled appearance in Dayton, Ohio, called her “a tough executive” who has “challenged the influence of the big oil companies,” as well as “a corrupt system” of leaders in Alaska. She cut spending, the campaign says, and put a stop to the “Bridge to Nowhere.”

Palin appears to have been fairly friendly to energy interests in oil- and natural gas-rich Alaska. Her administration in August secured legislative approval to license the largest construction project ever undertaken in North America, a 1,715-mile natural gas pipeline to Canada from Alaska’s North Slope. TransCanada Alaska will beuilt the pipeline, expected to move 4.5 billion cubic feet of gas daily from Prudhoe Bay to Canada. While that was celebrated as a major political victory in Alaska, she also has endured criticism – and an independent investigation ordered up by the state legislature – for the firing of a state trooper . He was an ex-brother-in-law.

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