JUNEAU, Alaska — Much of the country was taken by surprise when Sarah Palin became the Republican vice presidential candidate in August 2008, but newly released emails make it clear that the little-known Alaska governor was angling for the slot months before Sen. John McCain asked her to join him on the GOP ticket.
Earlier that summer, Palin and her staff began pushing to find a larger audience for the governor, wedging her into national conversations and nudging the McCain campaign to notice her.
Palin and her staff talked excitedly on June 19 about plans to repeal Alaska's fuel tax. Ivy Frye, a longtime Palin aide and friend, said she would send details to McCain staffers when they became available.
"They're going to love it!" Frye wrote. "More vp talk is never a bad thing, whether you're considering vp or not. say President Palin sounds better tho..."
The glimpse into Palin came in more than 24,000 pages of emails released Friday from her first 21 months as governor. They showed a Palin involved closely in the day-to-day business of the state while trying to cope with the increasing pressures that came with her rise from small-town mayor to governor to national prominence.
They also revealed that Palin, as the newly minted Republican vice presidential nominee, was dismayed by the sudden onslaught of questions from reporters, especially one about whether she believed dinosaurs and humans existed at the same time. She also dealt with death threats, and at least once, she prayed for strength.
The emails cover the period from the time she took office in December 2006 to her ascension to GOP vice presidential candidate in August and September 2008. They were first requested during the 2008 White House race by citizens and news organizations, including The Associated Press, as they vetted a nominee whose political experience included less than one term as governor and a term as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.
The emails provided details about how Palin was involved in various gubernatorial duties, including priorities like a natural gas pipeline from far northern Alaska to ship natural gas to the Lower 48.
But some of the more intriguing details centered on her rise to the national stage.
On June 4, she appeared on Glenn Beck's program on the Fox News Channel. Afterward, she received a string of flattering emails from conservatives looking for a fresh face to run alongside McCain.
"You would make an excellent president (forget being VP!!!)," a Virginia woman wrote that same day. "It is so refreshing to hear someone speak in a common sense manner."
A Cooperstown, N.Y., wrote, "You are what this country needs. ... McCain is old and maybe not be in the best of health so you would be taking on alot (sic)."
Later that month, Palin and her team were making final preparations on a letter about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She told one aide to make sure the letter was sent to newspapers across the country. Then she added in a follow-up email: "Pls also send to McCain and Obama's camps. Thanks."
Also in June, spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton sent Palin a draft of an op-ed piece carrying the governor's name that would be pitched to national publications "beginning with the New York Times." Palin responded the following day, writing: "Pls print."
But many reporters were already paying attention. A deputy press secretary told Palin in early June that she was fielding interview requests "on everything from polar bears to the VP buzz" from national media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal.
Three years later, Palin is among the top tier of potential 2012 presidential candidates in polls of Republican voters. Her recent bus tour of the Northeast fueled speculation about her national ambitions. She has said she has not yet decided whether she will run.
Within minutes of the emails' release on Friday, Palin tweeted a link to the website for "The Undefeated," a documentary about her time as governor and her arrival on the national political stage.
Her supporters, meanwhile, encouraged everyone to read the messages. "The emails detail a Governor hard at work," said Tim Crawford, the treasurer of her political action committee, Sarah PAC, in a prepared statement.
The nearly three-year delay in releasing the material has been attributed largely to the sheer volume. The emails were packed into six boxes, weighing 250 pounds in all, stacked in a small office in a complex of buildings near the state capitol in Juneau.
Lawyers went through every page to redact sensitive government information. Emails that remained portrayed her as most fierce when the subject was defending her record or her family.
"Will ktuu (an Anchorage TV station) and adn (Anchorage Daily News) be corrected re: the "internal investigation"? I did not request it, as they are both reporting," she wrote to an aide in Aug. 13, 2008.
As news organizations began vetting her record, Palin was accused of essentially turning over questions about her gubernatorial record to McCain's campaign managers, part of an ambitious GOP strategy to limit any embarrassing disclosures and carefully shape her image for voters in the rest of the country.
On Sept. 13, 2008, her then-spokesman, Bill McAllister, wrote to Palin at her government account: "Governor, Got your message just now; didn't quite understand. Mike said yesterday to refer most things to the campaign. That pretty much has been the practice lately."
On Sept. 15, 2008, Palin responded to a host of news media questions presented to her by McAllister. Among them was one about a tanning bed at the governor's mansion and whether it was her "belief that dinosaurs and humans co-existed at one time?"
"I am so sorry that the office is swamped like this! Dinosaurs even?! I'll try to run through some of these in my head before responding," Palin wrote. "And the old, used tanning bed that my girls have used handful of times in Juneau? Yes, we paid for it ourselves. I, too, will continue to be dismayed at the media."
On Sept. 17, 2008, Palin forwarded a profanity-laced email from a man claiming to be a Juneau resident from her government account to two aides.
"You need to be shot from one of the planes that shoot th (sic) very wolves that you ordered," according to the email. "I own guns, and will fight any gun owner hands down witha (sic) simple throwing knife, how about you palin ,,,want to go hunting for wolves still? lets make you run in your heels ..."
The emails also showed the support that national political figures gave Palin on a variety of issues.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich offered advice to a McCain-Palin campaign manager on how to blunt the impact of a September 2008 Washington Post report that she accepted $17,000 in per diem payments for time she spent at her Wasilla home.
Gingrich said the campaign should elaborate on its initial defense that Palin didn't charge the state for money she could have collected to spend on her kids.
The voluminous nature of Friday's release, the isolation of Juneau and the limited bandwidth in the city of 30,000 people has forced media outlets to come up with creative ways to transmit the information. The AP plans to scan the paper copies to make searchable files available to its members and clients.
Mike Oreskes, the AP's senior managing editor for national news, said the news cooperative requested the emails when Palin rose out of relative obscurity.
Oreskes said public records requests are a common tool that the news organization uses to research candidates, with more than 1,500 requests filed across the country in 2009 and an additional 1,000 in 2010.
"Palin is one of many officeholders whose public record and leadership the AP has sought to illuminate by obtaining emails, memos and other documents," he said. "She's maintained a sizable profile in the current political scene and may run for president. We are pressing to obtain the records of other presidential contenders in the months ahead."
The emails were sent and received by Palin's personal and state email accounts, and the ones being released were deemed state business-related. Palin and top aides were known to communicate using private email accounts.Comment on this story
Once the state reviewed the records, it gave Palin's attorneys an opportunity to see if they had any privacy concerns with what was being released. No emails were withheld or redacted as a result of that, said Linda Perez, Parnell's administrative director in charge of coordinating the release.
Another 2,275 pages are being withheld for reasons including attorney-client, work product or executive privilege; an additional 140 pages were deemed to be "non-records," or unrelated to state business.
The release of the emails generated widespread interest online.
Many news organizations, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and msnbc.com, began scanning and posting the emails on their websites throughout the day. The New York Times asked readers to join reporters in reviewing the documents. Tidbits of the emails were featured on blogs and Twitter.