In Palin's hometown, pregnancy news doesn't hurt support

Anchorage Daily NewsSeptember 2, 2008 

WASILLA, Alaska — If you watched TV news or went online on Monday, there was a lot of speculation about how her unmarried pregnant daugther would play into Sarah Palin's appeal as a devoted mother and proponent of conservative values.

But in Palin's hometown, supporters and critics alike rated it of minor importance and said they thought the revelation would do little to hurt the popular politician politically. Many said they considered the pregnancy a private family matter and not something that should reflect on Palin's abilities to be vice president.

"Hey, come on, Cheney's daughter was gay. Bill Clinton did what he did. It happens in all families. I don't know anyone who would be perfect," said John Hall, a Wasilla motorcycle mechanic, while shopping for barbecues at the Wasilla Wal-Mart.

At the Country Cutts hair salon in Palmer, owner Stan Guthrie said the topic du jour of those in his styling chair was the cold weather, the fair and their own personal troubles. The topic of Palin's daughter came up only a couple times Monday.

"People are pretty much reacting like it's no big deal. It's a family," he said. "It hasn't changed any (political) feelings."

At the Windbreak Hotel Cafe and Lounge, one of the main watering holes in Wasilla, bartender Katrina Bartlett also said the news was generating little talk. In comparison, the news of Palin's nomination on Friday had the town buzzing.

"You know it's not like she's got the first pregnant teenager," she said. "You can't control your kids. All you can do is support them."

Bristol's decision to keep the baby could play well with conservatives, many noted, because it is in keeping with Palin's anti-abortion views. But Bartlett agreed some social conservatives might view the teenage pregnancy more negatively.

"The Bible Belt is kind of funny about that," she said.

'HURTS MY HEART'

Sherry Whitstine, a conservative Wasilla area blogger, was among those more critical of Palin. She said the governor put her political aspirations above her family and should have declined McCain's offer to be vice president.

"What kind of woman knowing all of this, knowing this is happening, would put her children in the position where the whole world, the whole nation, is going to see the uglies? It's just putting our dirty laundry out there. It just hurts my heart."

Whitstine's view reflected many online, mostly anonymous comments that questioned Palin's judgment and commitment to her family. But among people interviewed on Monday, those opinions seemed to be in the minority.

Even those who've crossed swords with Palin offered empathy to a family dealing with a private crisis that had become a national political spectacle.

Senate President Lyda Green, a Wasilla Republican who has tangled with Palin for the past two years, had said Friday she thought it was a joke when she first heard of Palin's nomination for vice president. But she said Monday that children of elected officials aren't "fair game" for the kind of scrutiny politicians get.

"I just feel like having an untimely pregnancy is tough at best," she said. "Then to be on international news. That's gotta be tough. That has to be very, very tough. I feel bad for her, for the family, the grandparents."

'WE ALL HAVE DREAMS'

Mary Kvalheim, a Mat-Su Borough Assembly member since 2002 and registered Democrat, also offered support. She said she's praying for Bristol and can relate to what the young girl is going through.

Kvalheim got pregnant with her own daughter at 17. She graduated from high school four months along, then later married the baby's father. They stayed together for years, she said.

Getting pregnant so young was hard, she said. Kvalheim delayed going to college. She struggled to deal with the baby's colic and sleepless nights. But she also felt the joy of watching her daughter grow and eventually went to school.

"We all have dreams," she said. "That's why it's so important that we do support young women in this situation because they can have the child and get on with their life. I think my life has been pretty productive."

Green said she didn't think Bristol Palin's pregnancy will distract the governor.

"She has an uncanny ability, she's very good at focusing and going for what she has in mind and putting other things in the background," she said.

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