Just six days after Sarah Palin and John McCain’s campaign for the White House ended in defeat, Palin was back on the job as governor of Alaska — and back in her Wasilla kitchen. In an extensive interview that aired Tuesday on TODAY, Palin insisted that she had no plans to return to the national political stage — but left the door open for a possible 2012 presidential campaign.
After avoiding media interviews during the final weeks of the campaign, Palin opened up in a frank, freewheeling conversation. She denied ever requesting the expensive wardrobe that exploded into a campaign issue, denied any tension between her and McCain, and laid the blame for Barack Obama’s overwhelming victory on the Bush White House.
Door still open?
Immediately after the Nov. 4 election, polls showed Palin to be the clear front-runner among Republican voters for the 2012 presidential nomination. And she could conceivably be in Washington, D.C., within a year if the Senate expels Alaska’s senior U.S. senator, Republican Ted Stevens, who was convicted of corruption charges, and if she chooses to run in a special election to replace him.
But, Palin told TODAY’s Matt Lauer, “I'm not planning on it, because I think the people of Alaska will best be served with me as their governor.”
“I read an article about you that said you're pretty ambitious,” Lauer responded. “Doesn't some part of you want more of that?”
“You know, when you talk about that white-hot spotlight — that's not really attractive to me,” Palin said. “Look what that white-hot spotlight does to one's family, and does to one's credibility and record and word. So that's not the attraction to me.”
Nonetheless, observers point to the fact that Palin will be a featured speaker at the Republican Governors Association’s annual conference in Miami later this week as evidence that she is not ready to relinquish that spotlight. And in her interview with Lauer, Palin herself indicated that she could change her mind under the right circumstances.
“If I can be part of a solution to help this nation ... certainly I want to be a part of a solution in those terms,” she said. “But in the meantime, [I’m] going to be making sure that Alaska develops our resources so we can contribute more to the U.S. and allow our nation to be energy independent and secure and prosperous. I can do that as the governor of Alaska.”
In a separate interview with Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren that aired Monday night (the governor’s first post-election interviews were with The Anchorage Daily News and an Alaskan television station), Palin had been more specific on what would get her to change her mind about staying in Alaska, saying she would rely on the will of God.
“Putting my life in my creator's hands — this is what I always do,” she said in that interview. “I'm like, ‘OK, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere ... don't let me miss the open door.’ And if there is an open door in ’12 or four years later, and if it is something that is going to be good for my family, for my state, for my nation, an opportunity for me, then I'll plow through that door.”
Palin spoke with Lauer at her state office in Anchorage, then later while she was preparing a dinner of halibut-and-salmon casserole for her family and Lauer in the kitchen of her home in Wasilla.
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As Palin’s husband, Todd, held their youngest child, Trig, during the dinner conversation, the governor indicated that she would rather have done more interviews with the media during the campaign. “I’m comfortable doing interviews,” she said. “I love being able to express what my opinions are.”
But she would not directly address whether she was unhappy with not being allowed to talk more to the media by her campaign advisers. Instead, she said, “You can’t just assume that the voters will be able to just guess what is going on and guess and assume what a candidate’s positions are. And you do that through the media. You can’t be afraid to seize every opportunity you can to speak to Americans.”
Todd Palin told Lauer that the attacks on his wife during the campaign didn’t really filter through to them. “We were so busy with the campaign, there wasn’t much TV time,” he said, adding that the family wasn’t really fazed by it all anyway.
“We’ve been in this long enough to understand it’s just part of the business,” he said.
“It’s all a part of this beast called politics in America,” the governor added as she prepared food on her countertop.
During the kitchen conversation, Lauer asked 7-year-old Piper, the youngest of the Palins’ three daughters, what the worst part of the campaign was for her.
“All the rallies,” she said, indicating that all the speeches weren’t her cup of juice. She said she missed her friends at school and said catching up on her studies after all the time she missed “is really hard.”
Lauer asked how she’d feel if in four years her mom ran for president. Before Piper could answer, her mother said, “Would you want to do it again, sister?”
“Yeah,” Piper replied.
Video: Palin complains of ‘media games’
In the formal interview in Anchorage, Palin talked about her disappointment at not being able to address the crowd at the McCain-Palin headquarters in Arizona the night of the election. She had worked on two speeches to give, depending on the outcome, but was told before Sen. McCain gave his concession speech that she would not be allowed to give her speech. She was told it was unprecedented for vice presidential nominees to speak at such times.
Palin said she had worked for a week with campaign speechwriters on the remarks she never had a chance to give.
“One was a concession speech that would introduce him,” she told Lauer. “And it would do what John McCain just can't seem to do for himself, bless his heart, because he's just not that kind of mind. I was going to brag him up, and say, ‘He is an American hero, has faced great adversity, knows how challenges are overcome. And let us be thankful for this man, who, with a servant's heart, had offered himself up to America.’ ”
She didn’t identify the aide who nixed the speech. “Somebody said no,” she said. “All I could think of was ... even if it was unprecedented, so what?”
‘A brutal ride’
One thing that might give her pause about running for national office again, Palin told Lauer, was the virulence of the ad hominem attacks she experienced as McCain’s vice presidential candidate. Palin said that her years as a councilwoman and mayor of Wasilla and governor of Alaska had given her a thick skin when it came to personal attacks. But, she told Lauer, she was surprised at the level of such assaults on the world’s biggest political stage.
“I did not know that it would be as brutal a ride as it turned out to be in terms of some of the shots taken against my kids, and the false allegations,” she told Lauer in an interview at the Alaska Statehouse.
She blamed the media for many of the reports that she characterized as false. “And things that, Matt, so easily could have been corrected if those who were doing the reporting would have just taken one step further and actually checked my record or checked the circumstances that they were reporting on. I didn't know that there would be some laziness on some reporter's parts to not go correct the record and allow some fairness and opportunities.”
Slideshow: On the (fashion) trail
About those clothes
Among the reports that Palin said were false were those involving her wardrobe, which was reported to cost the Republican campaign $150,000. She said no lawyers have been sent to retrieve the clothes, which she said she never asked for. A third of the garments were returned as not suitable to wear, she said; another third remained in the belly of her campaign plane, while the rest have been returned. Palin said she was happy to be wearing her own clothes again.
Palin's father, Chuck Heath, told The Associated Press that Palin spent part of the weekend going through her clothing to determine what belongs to the Republican Party.
“She was just frantically ... trying to sort stuff out,” Heath told the AP. “That's the problem, you know, the kids lose underwear, and everything has to be accounted for. Nothing goes right back to normal.” Palin’s father said his daughter told him the only clothing or accessories she had purchased personally in the past four months were a pair of shoes.
“We don't have any of the campaign's clothes in our possession,” she told Lauer. “It was never anybody’s intention to keep those borrowed clothes from the RNC.”
She said the idea to buy new clothes from such high-end retailers as Saks and Neiman Marcus did not originate with her. “I did not order up these clothes,” the governor told Lauer, saying the people who decided what she should wear were “the New York stylists who were already there, and already orchestrating what the wardrobe should look like, just like they have people to figure out the staging and the lighting and everything else.”
About the election
Palin said she expected she and McCain would win the election right up to the very end. But she contradicted herself on the topic of the large margin of Obama’s win, saying at one point it was a surprise, and then later saying it wasn’t.
“I had great faith that perhaps when that voter entered that voting booth and closed that curtain, that what would kick in for them was, perhaps, a bold step that would have to be taken in casting the vote for us,” she said at one point. “So the margin was pretty surprising to me.”
Video: Palin: ‘Never any tension’ with McCain But at another point in her lengthy interview with Lauer, Palin referred to “just that anti-incumbency sentiment, really, that was spread across the land. And our ticket representing the incumbency, it's not so much a surprise, after all, that the margin was as great as it was. Perhaps our ticket represented too much of the status quo because we've got the ‘R’ by our name.”
She did give Obama credit for getting his message to the voters.
“He did a great job in articulating his ability to usher in change, the change that American voters certainly have been seeking,” she told Lauer. But, she maintained, it was she and McCain who “represented the true change.”
‘Love’ for McCain
As she has in other interviews, Palin denied reports based on anonymous sources that there was tension between her and McCain as the campaign wore on.
“Senator McCain and I, we have a great relationship,” she said. “I have nothing but honor and admiration and love for him and for his family. And I think that that is mutual. In fact, I talked to him just today, again — and [we’re] touching base nearly every day.”
Asked specifically about charges that she was a “rogue candidate,” Palin suggested that “Perhaps within the campaign there were campaign staffers ...” She didn’t finish the thought.
A centerpiece of Palin’s campaign had been her allegation that the president-elect “pals around with terrorists” and would not be the best person to militarily protect the nation. In light of that, Lauer asked Palin whether she is comfortable with her eldest son, Track, serving in the military in Iraq with Obama as commander in chief.
“I am if Barack Obama surrounds himself with those who understand how important it is to recognize the greatest threat against our young men and women over there in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even here in the homeland — and that is radical Islamic terrorists who have not changed their minds,” she replied. “I am proud of my son being one of America's finest over there — serving Barack Obama. Serving all of us.”
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