On Wednesday, it’ll be four years to the day that John McCain tapped Sarah Palin as his running mate for the presidency. Suddenly the governor of Alaska was propelled into the national spotlight. Although Alaska Governor Walter Hickel had been U.S. Interior Secretary under Richard Nixon, no Alaskan had ever been a serious contender on a national ticket, nor been under such a microscope.
McCain’s announcement changed Sarah Palin’s world forever – and the course of state government.
For Alaskans there are many lingering questions. Had McCain not chosen Palin, would she have finished her term as governor? Would the Republican majority in the legislature be pushing hard to lower oil taxes? Would Sean Parnell have been elected governor, had he not served a stint as Palin’s lieutenant governor, which allowed him to step in after she resigned. And would Alaska have near as many TV reality shows?
“Hurricane” Dave Rush knows one thing for sure. He might not have sold as many CD’s. The singer-songwriter and Anchorage humorist says every time he performed his song, “Don’t Ask Me About Her,” for tourists, they would by lots of his recordings.
The song is a country western spoof about a relationship gone sour. It complains about a common Alaskan experience on trips to the Lower 48 – being bombarded with questions about Sarah Palin. And while the song has a lot of strained rhymes, it never once mentions her name.
Here’s a sample of some of the lyrics:
You can ask me about the midnight sun that glows in the summer time.
Or the northern lights of winter, whose ribbons blow my mind.
You can ask me about the Iditarod, or the Rendezvous of Fur.
Oh, please don’t ask me about her.
Rush admits he was hoping Palin would be at the Republican convention in Florida.
“I’m sorry she’s not going to be there. Any time she fades from the public eye, it’s bad for me and for my record sales,” said Rush.
Like her or not, just about everyone in Alaska has an opinion about Sarah Palin. Many remember exactly what they were doing when they heard the news that McCain had chosen Palin on August 29, 2008.
On a recent afternoon at Cuddy Park in midtown, there were a number of people willing to share their memories with us.
Ricardo Castillo was pushing his daughter Sydney Aurora around in a stroller.
“I was in Building 632 at Ft. Richardson, Alaska,” said Castillo. “I was getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan and my thoughts were about who is the best candidate for the war in Afghanistan.”
Castillo never dreamed that Palin would become a reality TV star and a political pundit on the Fox News Network.
“I think that’s a huge accomplishment. I can say a lot of people are shocked, but a lot of people can say she’s done well for herself,” said Castillo.
Mark Pipkin, who was out walking his dog, remembers hearing the news on a public radio station.
“I was working a job down in Hydaberg,” said Pipkin, who is an archeologist.
Pipkin says as soon as he heard McCain’s announcement, he drove out to the construction site and told workers what he had heard.
“And people would go, ‘Oh, no. That couldn’t have happened,' and I bet then $10 dollars each. There were four different people and I made $40 dollars that day,” said Pipkin.
Gwen Larsen, who was taking a walk during her lunch hour, says she was in the kitchen cooking when she heard the news coming from the television in the living room.
“My first thought was, ’Wow. Alaska,’” said Larsen.
Dave Dittman, an Anchorage political researcher who has also worked as a pollster for Palin, says, whether you like her or not, her impact on the state has been huge.
“At the time, she was in full bloom so to speak,” said Dittman, who recalls she had favorability ratings that approached 90 percent. “Anyone who had anything to do with Sarah Palin was in demand. I think she directed the spotlight on Alaska.”
Dittman says reporters, who came up to Alaska to do stories on Palin discovered it was a pretty interesting place -- and he believes the coverage eventually attracted more reality TV shows to the state.
While some of Alaskans would rather not see the state get this kind of attention, Dittman says Palin has become an icon for the state. He says before Palin was governor, his company did nationwide surveys asking people what words first came to mind when they heard the word, “Alaska.”
Dittman said words like “cold” and “frozen” would come up. The respondents never named a person.
“There isn’t any doubt in my mind whatsoever, if we did it (the survey) right now, the first thing would be Sarah Palin,” says Dittman.
This is in sharp contrast to what he exerienced four years ago.
Dittman says he was in bed when he heard that the news that Sarah Palin was running for Vice President.
At first he thought the newscasters were reporting on rumors.
“I just didn’t take it seriously. It was like, are you kidding? Are you serious?”
But Dittman says Palin’s brand of politics and celebrity left an indelible mark on the state. And while her fame has faded some, Dittman says she’s still a household name – and on recent trips to Italy and Germany, people were still asking about “her.”
“As soon as you said you were from Alaska, heads would turn," said Dittman. "People would size you up to see what an Alaskan looks like. And the next thing would be, ‘Do you know Sarah Palin?’”
That’s hope for Hurricane Dave Rush that his song, "Don't Ask Me About Her," may yet continue to sell. In any case, he says he has a renewed appreciation for the Palin franchise.
“Sarah and I have a lot in common,” says Rush, “a lot more in common than we ever realized, that we’re both shameless self-promoters.”
(Editor's Note: Rhonda McBride worked for the Palin administration as an advisor on rural issues from December 2007 to October 2008.)