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Sarah Palin makes history and headlines, her way

If she sounds unique, she is; she has made US history her way, on her terms, wooing Americans by weaving together very traditional values and dazzling telegenics, energizing the Republican Party's base to support John McCain.

world Updated: Oct 12, 2008 08:06 IST

Sarah Palin, who alone juggles the roles of Alaska governor, ex-beauty queen, moose hunter and mother of five, shot from national obscurity to become the first woman on a Republican presidential ticket.

If she sounds unique, she is; she has made US history her way, on her terms, wooing Americans by weaving together very traditional values and dazzling telegenics, energizing the Republican Party's base to support John McCain.

When pressed in major media interviews on less than direct answers, she saw fit to shoot back at the media as liberal elite looking for a "Gotcha!" moment.

That only fueled speculation there might be something actually to get.

And when some analysts raised doubts that briefly leading Alaska might not qualify her to be a heartbeat away from becoming president of the United States, McCain's campaign has pooh-poohed the suggestion, arguing that Palin was commander in chief of Alaska's national guard.

One minute she smiles, winks coyly and waves demurely, outfitted in designer duds redolent of Jackie Kennedy circa 1961 (hold the pillbox hat); US cable news plays the (free) image over and over.

But she is no First Lady: this post-feminist packs a hunting rifle and warns her opponents she is a "hockey mom" who is a "pit bull" in lipstick.

The carefully coiffed conservative Christian once was dubbed "America's Hottest Governor." Not one to let herself go, she has a tanning bed at home and confessed in an interview she wore "librarian glasses" to try to get reporters to stop asking about her looks.

If anything Palin, 44, has underscored how important the visual imagery can be in a political campaign covered by media relentlessly around the clock, in balancing out McCain's mature and silvery 72 years.

She has cast herself as an anticorruption star. But she was found in a report released Friday by Alaska's Legislative Council to have violated state ethics rules governing public officials.

Palin had allowed her husband Todd Palin to use the Alaska governor's office and its resources to pressure officials to fire state trooper Mike Wooten, her former brother-in-law, the investigator said.

The family values champion also has disclosed that her unwed teenage daughter, Bristol, 17, is pregnant, and sought federal cash for programs opposed by McCain.

Palin is also an ardent "pro-life" campaigner who gave birth in April to her fifth child, a boy, Trig, who has Downs Syndrome.

When the scandal of her daughter's pregnancy came to light, she and husband, Todd, swiftly issued a statement saying Bristol was keeping the baby and planned to marry the father, a high school hockey player named Levi Johnston.

Palin as governor has earned approval ratings of 80 percent. But she has only led the vast, oil-producing northwestern state since December 2006, when she became the youngest person ever to hold Alaska's governorship.

Now she has become the second woman ever to run on a major-party White House ticket, after Democrat Geraldine Ferraro who ran as VP in 1984.

Palin grew up in the town of Wasilla, Alaska -- population 8,500 -- leading her high school basketball team, where she earned the nickname "Sarah Barracuda" for her aggressive, determined style and placing second in the Miss Alaska contest. A popular car bumper sticker in Alaska reads: "Coldest state, Hottest Governor."

She studied journalism at the University of Idaho and worked in Anchorage as a television sports reporter before moving into politics.

She returned to Wasilla in 1992 to serve on the city council. Later she successfully challenged the incumbent-mayor and held office from 1996-2002.

Palin soon moved on to bigger game: Republicans entrenched in state office. After she first lost a run for the lieutenant governorship, she helped expose shady deals linked to the state Republican party's top bosses and finally ousted Republican incumbent Frank Murkowski for the governorship in 2006.

On taking office she immediately began a drive focusing on legislative ethics, driving through a reform bill within six months of her election win.

Palin also has son in the US army who deployed to Iraq on September 11, and daughters Willow, 14, and Piper, seven.

She continues to commute daily from Wasilla to the governor's office, where a large sign over her suite reads "Time to make a difference."

Her husband Todd, 43, a former commercial fisherman who now works in Alaska's oil fields and who is a champion snowmobile racer, a four-time winner of the Alaska Iron Dog competition. Alaskans have dubbed him "The First Dude."