ANCHORAGE — Ask a governor if she'd be happy with a 68 percent approval rating and she'd probably laugh at the question. It usually doesn't get much better than that.
For Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, though, that represents a hefty drop.
Since John McCain tapped the first-term governor to be his vice-presidential running mate, Palin's sky-high home-state approval ratings have come down to Earth.
Above 80 percent approval for parts of her term — she was at 82 percent in a key local poll twice this year — Palin's popularity has swooned as new information about the local abuse-of-power investigation known as troopergate has trickled out, and as national and local media pick over her track record as a governor and small-town mayor.
Palin still has overwhelming support among Alaska Republicans. But many Democrats and independents, who gave her positive marks just a month ago, have changed their view.
"My problem is not with Sarah Palin the governor," said Ron Zandman-Zeman, 60, a recently retired schoolteacher from Anchorage. "She was doing the job she was elected to do. I don't think she can do the job she wants to be elected to do. And that's why I'm here."
"Here" was a rally in a downtown Anchorage park this past weekend, where several hundred demonstrators gathered under a brilliant blue sky to protest Palin and her attorney general, mostly for their handling of the troopergate controversy.
Until this summer, there were plenty of Alaskans who'd supported or been neutral toward their governor. Palin built a reservoir of goodwill over a handful of key issues, including prodding the state's oil industry to cough up more of its profits, which fund the vast majority of state operations.
After McCain shocked the political world by picking Palin, the rest of the country experienced a flash of infatuation with the charming, gutsy governor. But some Alaskans turned against what they saw as her newly aggressive, mean-spirited demeanor.
At the studio of KENI in Anchorage, Andrew Halcro has become a focal point for anti-Palin advocates. Halcro is a former state legislator who was beaten by Palin in the 2006 gubernatorial election. (Running as an independent, Halcro finished third behind Palin and former Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat).
But he's also a Republican. He has been disillusioned with Palin for, among other things, her handling of the troopergate issue. For the past month, he's been hosting a daily talk radio show.
At first, callers were defensive on Palin's and Alaska's behalf — particularly as the national media and left-wing blogs published information about the governor's family and questioned her record in office.
"It was uncomfortable to even talk about a story in the morning paper," he said. "People would say, 'You need to move on.'"
Palin had done a good job of governing from the center, he said. But her recent mocking of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, for example, is a surprise to many Alaskans.
"I see a real change in the callers," he said. "People are seeing Gov. Palin in a different light."
Zandman-Zeman, for example, said he had respected McCain in the past, until the Republican presidential nominee changed his approach to appease more conservative elements of his party. Zandman-Zeman also had come around on Palin during her time as governor (he supported somebody else in the 2006 election), and he might've supported her for re-election in Alaska.
But he still considers her out of her league on the national scene. On Saturday, he held a sign near a street corner as cars whizzed by, drivers honking in support of the demonstrators.
His sign read: "Palin — A Good Gov in Way Over Her Head."
While many demonstrators objected to Palin on partisan or ideological grounds, two issues that clearly rankled Alaskans had nothing to do with party loyalty: openness and independence.
Ivan Moore, a local pollster who works with both Democrats and Republicans, recently found that Palin's support had slipped to 68 percent. The poll was conducted from Sept. 20 to 22 among 500 likely Alaska voters and has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.
Inside those numbers was a dramatic drop in support from Democrats and independents, although support from Republicans remained strong at 93 percent. Among Democrats, her approval rating dropped from 60 percent to 36 percent, a 24-point drop. Among independents, it fell from 82 percent to 64 percent, an 18-point drop.
Moore said those numbers were likely driven by the harsher tone Palin has adopted on the national campaign trail, as well as the fallout from troopergate.
Palin's lost many supporters because she's worked to thwart a bipartisan inquiry into troopergate after saying she'd cooperate. (Troopergate involves the firing of the state's public safety commissioner, who'd refused to fire a state trooper who'd been involved in a messy divorce with Palin's sister).
In addition, fiercely independent Alaskans resent moves by the McCain campaign to control what they see as purely state matters.
Sondra Tompkins, a reliably Republican voter, found herself speaking out at the rally — upset, she said, because of Palin's handling of the trooper issue and the example it sets for children in the state.
"They're listening, they're watching, and they're asking questions," Tompkins called out to the crowd. "Do we tell them it's OK not to tell the truth? Do we tell them it's OK to bend the truth? Do we tell them it's OK to distort the truth if you have a gaggle of lawyers to defend you?
"It's not OK, and I think Alaskans have had enough."
Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., said an approval rating in the 60s for a governor is good. His recent polling in six western states found two governors with approval ratings in the low-80s, two in the 60s and one in the 50s.
The sky-high ratings Palin once had are somewhat unusual, he said — but not unheard of.
"Governors in smaller states tend to have much higher performance ratings because their constituencies are smaller," he said. "They have personal contact with the voters and so there is more familiarity between them and the constituents. But 68 percent is pretty good."
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