WASHINGTON — To the outside world in 2008, Gov. Sarah Palin presented herself as a busy chief executive and working mother focused exclusively on "progressing Alaska."
Emails released this week show that behind the hockey mom humility, Palin was teeming with national political ambition. Although she had her sights on Arizona Sen. John McCain, she fielded calls and encouraged the attention of all the major GOP presidential contenders seeking her endorsement.
"He called. Very cool," she told staffers in a Jan. 30, 2008 email about former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. "Unless McCain calls, Huck's a good pick for me, just FYI. He says he's all for gas line and ANWR — very cool."
Palin was especially pleased after a phone call with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who called her the day before the Super Tuesday primaries that effectively ended his 2008 Republican bid.
"Talked to Romney today! Thank you for hooking that up!" she wrote in a Feb. 4, 2008 email to Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell. "Can't believe he took the time. Talked to him about women in leadership. He said all the right things."
The state of Alaska released 24,199 printed pages of emails Friday, as part of a public records request sought by news organizations shortly after McCain picked Palin in 2008 as his vice presidential running mate.
The emails begin when Palin took office in December 2006 and run through the fall of 2008, when she was a candidate for vice president.
News organizations sought the documents at a time when few Americans knew much about Palin. The emails, available under Alaska's public records laws, detail her public record as a governor. But their release comes at an equally interesting time: when Palin is considering her own 2012 presidential bid.
The emails show that Palin was intent on raising her national profile, and she rarely turned down out-of-state press requests that could lead to more exposure. "The Wall Street Journal is sending a reporter up shadow you June 17 and/or 18," a staffer wrote her in the summer of 2008 "The New York Times Magazine is sending a reporter the week of June 23."
In her own memoir, Palin acknowledged the buzz surrounding her in early 2008, but she demurred when it came to owning up to her own ambitions — or the work she did to make sure she was getting the attention of the right people.
"There had been rumors John was considering me along with many others as his VP pick," she wrote in "Going Rogue," the memoir she published in 2009 after the campaign. "But I was very busy with state business and the whole veep thing was such a long shot that I hadn't even considered it a real possibility."
The emails suggest otherwise, particularly those in February 2008, when Palin was angling to snag a one-on-one meeting with McCain at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington. She asked a top staffer with the Republican Governors Association to make it happen.
"He obviously doesn't need Alaska, but it'd still be good to talk to him before too long," she wrote to a staffer in February 2008, as they finalized her schedule.
Palin was also fully aware of how important her presence would be at the events surrounding the annual winter meeting in 2008. "Is there a Huckabee event too?" she wrote to her staff. "And did we rsvp for all the president's events and RGA events — those will be important. And even the D's candidate events?"
Palin proved adept at standing out from some of the other potential vice presidential picks who were undergoing an audition of sorts at the 2008 NGA meeting. They included Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, whose climate change proposal failed to gain traction and may even have hurt his chances.
The director of Palin's Washington office, John Katz, emailed her a Robert Novak column about Pawlenty's dimmed prospects.
"Interesting article," wrote Katz. "I guess the moral to the story is that proposing a restrictive climate change policy at the NGA winter meeting is not the best premise for selection as vice president."
By June 19, 2008, Palin was actively making a case to be McCain's vice presidential pick. Staffer Ivy Frye said she'd send McCain's camp some information about Palin's effort to repeal a fuel tax.
"They're going to love it!" Frye said. "More vp talk is never a bad thing, whether you're considering vp or not. I still say President Palin sounds better tho"
Even before the 2008 veepstakes, her staffers sought out events that would boost her profile, and among Democrats, too. They urged her to attend an October 2007 Newsweek Women in Leadership Conference, noting she would be able to "tell AK's story" and interact with high-profile women in the media and politics, such as Huffington Post's Arianna Huffington, ABC News's Cynthia McFadden and "Obama's Betsy Myers," a reference to a top adviser to his campaign.
Her fans also stoked the fire. Even as far back as June 2007, just six months into her governorship, one supporter emailed her to say he would recommend to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani that he pick the Alaska governor as his running mate if he prevailed in the primaries. That continued as her profile grew.
"Would you please consider being McCain's running mate?" an Albany, N.Y., man wrote on June 3, 2008. "There are millions of Hillary Clinton supporters who would react positively to this."
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