Much of Gov. Sarah Palin’s hometown was in the grip of Palin fever on Saturday, a day after the former mayor was unveiled as John McCain’s vice presidential pick.
Early-morning patrons of the Mocha Moose Cafe said they were pleasantly stunned by the choice of their former mayor. Before midday, the Radio 99.7 billboard whooped like a high school cheerleader: “Go Sarah. We Love You.”
“We’re very excited,” said Karena Forster, who works at the drive-through Mocha Moose espresso stand, where Palin sometimes stops in for her morning skinny white mocha. “It’s very neat to see one of our own rise up above.”
Down the highway in the Frontier Mall, Patrick Carney Jr. said that when he heard the news on television a day before, “it knocked me flat.” Carney comes from a large Democratic family, but he’s wavering now.
Brother Mark Carney, who was in high school with Palin and works unloading freight, said Palin’s addition to the ticket “changed my vote. I think it’s good taking someone who’s lived like a common person.”
“She’s highly principled. She may be from the other party, but she’s very honest,” said their father, Patrick Carney Sr., a former Democratic state legislator who’s still voting the Democratic ticket.
Wasilla, about an hour north of Anchorage, is in the Mat-Su Valley, a place of sweeping lakes and rivers where clouds of mist lie low in the fields and snow-striped mountain peaks jut from the clouds. It is a town of fewer than 10,000 in the middle of a region that is home to nearly 80,000. Charmless strip malls with big-box stores line the main highway; lakefront homes open onto dramatic views.
Sarah and Todd Palin, who have five children, have a home on Lake Lucille, according to former neighbor Ray Pursche. When he moved to Wasilla in the early 1980s, he said, the town had one blinking traffic light and a few stores. That began to change while Palin was on the City Council, starting in 1992, particularly during her two terms as mayor.
“She’s been very helpful, always bringing business into the city,” Pursche said.
When Palin’s mother, Sally Heath, answered her door Saturday, she apologized for not being able to chat. “I’m just trying to follow protocol,” she said. “I guess life really has changed.” She said family members were to meet with the campaign in Anchorage later in the day to confer on what they might and might not say.
Palin has been a favorite daughter in Wasilla since adolescence, when she led the high school girls basketball team to the state championship in 1982. She was, as the Anchorage Daily News put it, “practically canonized” for her athletic prowess.
But not everyone in town is a fan.
Irl Stambaugh was Wasilla’s first police chief. When she was on the council, he said, they tussled over the issue of closing time for bars. He wanted to change closing time from 5 a.m to 2 a.m., but Palin thought that would infringe on business owners. When she became mayor, she fired him.
“I think it was a personality conflict,” said Stambaugh.
Ed Kalnins, senior pastor of Palin’s Pentecostal church, Assembly of God, described Palin as tenacious. “Once she understands a truth, she bites down on it and won’t let go of the truth,” he said.