During her first months in office, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin kept a relatively light schedule on her workdays in Juneau, making ceremonial appearances at sports events and funerals, meeting with state lawmakers, and conducting interviews with Alaska magazines, radio stations and newspapers.
But this spring, Palin's official calendar chronicles an extraordinary rise to national prominence. A fresh face in Republican politics, she was discovered by the national news media at least in part because of a determined effort by a state agency to position her as an oil and gas expert who could tout Alaska's determined effort to construct a natural gas pipeline.
An outside public relations expert hired under a $31,000 contract with the state Department of Natural Resources pitched the "upstart governor" as a crusader against Big Oil, a story line that Palin has adopted in her campaign as Sen. John McCain's running mate. The contract was the only time the Palin administration hired an outside consultant to set up media interviews, a function performed in many states by government employees.
At the state Capitol, Palin agreed to be "shadowed" for days by some national reporters, and her dealings with the legislature dropped off so dramatically that some House and Senate members donned red-and-white "Where's Sarah?" buttons to show their disapproval. But her high-visibility campaign paid off, helping Palin win notice from political pundits, who began including her on lists of long-shot choices for the GOP vice presidential spot.
"We were glad she was out there promoting energy development," said Alaska state Rep. Jay Ramras (R), an occasional critic of Palin. "Who would have guessed the self-promoting element would have led to such an improbable move, to place her on the ticket, but it worked."