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 show 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, 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. I still say President Palin sounds better tho ... "
The glimpse into Palin's first 21 months as Alaska governor, from the time she took office to her ascension to GOP vice presidential candidate, came in more than 24,000 pages of emails released Friday by the state. Citizens and news organizations, including The Associated Press, first requested the emails during the 2008 White House race 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 showed that supporters across the country began suggesting to Palin that she would be a good vice presidential candidate as early as April. That attention increased after she appeared on conservative commentator Glenn Beck's "Headline News" show on CNN in early June.
"We have heard your name, along with our own Governor, mentioned as a possible vice-presidential candidate," wrote a person who identified himself as Ron Peters of Shreveport, La. "I think you could do a lot for the Republican Party and would be an outstanding choice. Is this within the realm of possibility?"
Letters congratulating her on the birth of her son Trig poured in at the same time, even as Palin dealt with rumors that Bristol Palin, not the governor, was the baby's mother.
"Even at Trig's doc apt this morning his doc said that's out there (hopefully NOT in their medical community-world, but it's out there)," Palin wrote on April 22. "Bristol called again this afternoon asking if there's anything we can do to stop this, as she received two girlfriend-type calls today asking if it were true."
In June, 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."
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.
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.
Lawyers went through every page to redact sensitive government information, and 2,275 pages were 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.
Palin's attorneys did not ask to withhold any emails for privacy concerns, said Linda Perez, who was in charge of coordinating the release.
As news organizations began vetting her record in 2008, 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.
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."
The emails also showed the support that national political figures gave Palin.
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.
Palin also dealt with death threats. On Sept. 17, 2008, she forwarded a profanity-laced, threatening email from a man claiming to be a Juneau resident from her government account to two aides.
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.