Trailblazer: An Intimate Biography of Sarah Palin
I met Sarah Palin on June 2, 2008, while on assignment for People magazine. No, we didn’t have advance word that she would be named to the GOP ticket later in the summer. And politics wasn’t the primary focus of the story. At the time, Alaska’s youngest and first female governor was making news for giving birth to her fifth child, Trig Paxton Van Palin, making her only the second sitting governor to have a baby in office. (Having given birth to twins in 2001, Massachusetts acting governor Jane Swift was the first.) What’s more, the results from an amniocentesis Sarah took thirteen weeks into her pregnancy showed Trig was afflicted with the developmental disorder Down syndrome, which she kept secret from everyone except her husband, Todd, right up to the time Sarah gave birth on April 18.
The story was held for more than two months, not an uncommon occurrence at a weekly magazine for a profile without a timely peg. Then on the morning of August 29 (Sarah and Todd’s twentieth wedding anniversary), John McCain provided the bump we needed to run our story by naming Sarah Palin his running mate. People magazine garnered the first interview with Palin moments after she was picked. “Absolutely, yup, yup,” she replied when asked if she was prepared to serve a heartbeat away from the White House.
As the only national journalist in the country who had spent significant time with Palin in the weeks preceding her selection, I was awakened by my editor asking me to prepare a story for the Web site, People.com. In the story, “Five Things You Didn’t Know about Sarah Palin,” I quoted Sarah and her husband and touched on a few details of the governor’s life: competing in beauty pageants to pay for college; her penchant for designer sun- glasses and shoes; her secret pregnancy; eldest son Track’s imminent deployment to Iraq; and Todd’s Yu’pik Eskimo lineage. There is more to the story, much more, which is why I decided to write this book.
It was pretty clear from the first moment I met Sarah that she wasn’t your typical gubernatorial executive. I remember covering a ribbon-cutting event in California not long after Arnold Schwarzenegger took office and was stunned by the amount of security and the Secret Service–type planning that went into his appearances. Palin went about her business without a security detail, which is how she likes it. Few connect with voters with the grace and charm of the Alaskan governor, despite all the drama swirling around her. She has taken a lot of heat for being a policy lightweight and sometimes answering questions in what critics call “Palin gibberish,” but her people skills are downright Reaganesque. I don’t care who you are, you have her undivided attention when you speak. And when you meet her again, she’s likely to remember something about you and the last time you met. Undoubtedly, McCain erred in not letting Palin be herself on the campaign and restricting her access to media.
While I was researching the book, I had a conversation with Sarah’s sister Heather Bruce. Heather was upset over another terrible headline about her sister and was near tears when she confided in her husband, Kurt. “How is Sarah dealing with all this?” she said. Kurt knew just what to say to help his wife regain her composure. “Heather, remember, it’s Sarah; she can handle it.”
She was in full multitask mode the day I arrived to interview her at her Anchorage office. She walked through the door a little after 9 a.m., armed with a large cup of coffee and two BlackBerrys, one red, one black. I was immediately struck by her aw-shucks style and friendly manner. That day, she was going to sign a bill, do an interview with People and CNN, and lead a staff meeting on the natural-gas pipeline proposal. A special session in Juneau was to begin the next day dealing specifically with the gas-line project that Sarah hopes someday will pump natural gas from Prudhoe Bay to the Lower Forty-eight.
The other side to Sarah is her private life, which people don’t often get to see. After work, Sarah drives herself to Wasilla in a black SUV, occasionally picking up a pizza for dinner. She arrives home to a family on the go. The house is usually filled with children, friends of Piper and Willow, or cousins. If they’re shooting baskets in the driveway, Sarah joins in for a game of Horse or a little one-on-one contest with Willow. At mealtime, Sarah might discuss a business trip to Juneau while Todd briefs everyone on his plans for a midnight training run to prepare for the Iron Dog snowmobile race. Later, Sarah keeps an eye on Piper, who plays with baby Trig like he’s one of her dolls. The ribbing is non- stop and sometimes the Governor is the punching bag; jokes fly about Sarah’s weight gain during her pregnancy with Trig, Willow’s inability to beat her mother at basketball, and Bristol’s nonchalance about her mom’s meteoric rise in national politics. The governor takes all the needling in good humor. For Sarah and her family, 2008 was an adventure through uncharted territory, and 2009 and beyond promises to be just as challenging. In accepting McCain’s invitation, Sarah took a leap of faith. But as her past shows, it’s not an unfamiliar course. In Trailblazer: An Intimate Biography of Sarah Palin, friends, relatives, and Sarah herself recount her improbable journey from small-town Wasilla to the power centers of Washington, D.C., and how her drive and perseverance were shaped by a demanding father with an insatiable curiosity and wanderlust and a soft-spoken mother, a faith in God, and the ability to leap forward where others step gingerly. She’s the tomboy who became a beauty queen, the shy, quiet student who became a broadcast journalist, the young, apolitical mother with the blue-collar husband who became a controversial mayor, then a regional GOP star who defied the party hierarchy and outlasted all her political enemies to become governor of Alaska, the youngest in the state’s fifty-year history. Her journey, no doubt, inspired John McCain to name Sarah his running mate for the 2008 presidential election. That is the story Trailblazer tells.