The Model Political Spouse

By Chafets, Zev | Newsweek, May 30, 2011 | Go to article overview
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The Model Political Spouse

Chafets, Zev, Newsweek

Byline: Zev Chafets

Todd Palin can handle another campaign. Friends hope he won't have to prove it.

Jim Palin met both me and calamari for the first time at lunch last month at Evangelo's, the best Italian restaurant in Wasilla, Alaska. Jim Palin, Todd's father, has been hunting and fishing in his state for almost 50 years, but somehow he had never crossed paths with a squid, alive or fried. As for reporters from the "lamestream media," he had met a few, but had never actually sat down to break bread with one before.

I had come to lunch hoping to learn a little about Jim's elusive son, Todd--a figure of enduring fascination who just might, if Sarah Palin decides to make a presidential run, become the country's first first husband.

Jim Palin, retired general manager of the local electric company and a Phil Donahue look-alike, talks about how Todd won Alaska's Iron Dog snowmobile race four times--making him a legendary local badass. We talk about his son's basketball prowess--Todd was a star on the boys' varsity in Wasilla, and played for Missouri Valley College--and how he would fare in a one-on-one matchup with the president. "Up against Obama?" Jim's blue eyes sparkled behind his bifocals. "Interesting question. Let's just say that Todd would handle himself pretty well." What Jim doesn't much want to discuss is Sarah's political career. He says that he will, of course, support Sarah if she runs. But I got the distinct impression he believes she won't. Todd's close friends are hoping, for his sake, that she doesn't.

When Sarah was tapped as John McCain's running mate, Todd dutifully hit the campaign trail on her behalf, but he was so out of his element that he asked his friend Martin Buser to join him. Buser is another legendary Alaskan racer, a four-time winner of the Iditarod, which is the Iron Dog with real dogs. "Todd wanted somebody around who's had a blister before," Buser told me. "We met a lot of important people, but it takes somebody real accomplished to impress a guy like Todd, an athlete at the top of his game who has won so often on his own terms."

Buser has known both Palins for years. "Todd is Sarah's chief of staff and her entourage," he said. And her gatekeeper. "People who live remote are trained watchers and listeners. You have to know who you are dealing with because survival may depend on it.

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