Reading Sarah Palin

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Anchorage Daily News / MCT / Landov

Sarah Palin will get the most media attention of her life today. But before the Alaska governor ever got into politics — and long before she was the GOP's freshly-minted Vice Presidential candidate — she was a TV reporter. A 1987 graduate of the University of Idaho, she covered Alaskan politics for Anchorage's NBC affiliate. Between 2004 and 2007, after getting into government, she wrote a series of op-eds for the Anchorage Daily News that offer clues about why Sen. McCain picked her in the first place — and what to expect now that she's entered the national election fray.

Palin's writing doesn't give much insight into her conservative policy positions, but it does put on display some of the other, personal qualities that make her an appealing choice for McCain. She has written repeatedly criticizing other state politicians' possible ethical transgressions, targeting both Republicans and Democrats in her calls for reform. She sprinkles her pieces with quotes from Plato, Henry Kissinger, and her state's constitution, but also uses expressions like "doggone it" and praises Alaskans for their work ethic and love of freedom and community — a possible asset in a campaign that has focused on questions of elitism and being in touch with voters.

Palin's youth is sure to make McCain's age (he turned 72 Friday) an even bigger issue than it has already been in the campaign, raising questions about whether she would be ready to take over the Oval Office if anything should happen to him. But Palin's op-eds highlight that her age — she's just 44 — is only one of several counterpoints she could offer to the youth-friendly Obama campaign. A newcomer to national politics herself, having risen from mayor of Wasilla (population 6,715) to governor of Alaska in 2006, she trumpets some of the same calls for change that attract Sen. Obama's followers. "If we want to unleash the energy hidden under North Slope tundra," she wrote in 2006 about Alaska's gas pipeline negotiations, "the best way to get the job done is to unleash the energy of a new generation of leaders."

Perhaps even more important than the issues, the op-eds hint at what Palin's campaign style will be like between now and November. Palin — a former co-captain of a state champion girls basketball team, a self-styled "hockey mom" and a distance runner — writes that she relishes the competition that is key in both the sports arena and the political one. "Competition defines and refines a person," she says. "It really is nothing to be afraid of." During her 2006 run for governor, she pledged transparency and praised "clean campaigns that stick to the issues — and stick to the truth."

She also criticizes negative campaigning, writing in 2004: "Wayward ammunition causes damages when politicians run negative campaigns aimed toward opponents' feet instead of shooting straight with voters."

Still, Palin seems well-cast to take up the traditional Veep role of attack dog. "It's said the only difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull is lipstick," Palin wrote in 2004 — and she didn't dispute the claim. "So with lipstick on," she added, "the gloves come off."