The new star of Alaska's Republican Party lit up Juneau during a campaign visit to the capital this weekend.
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Sarah Palin, Alaska's Republican nominee for governor, brought the campaign energy that swept her candidacy past incumbent Gov. Frank Murkowski in last month's primary. The former Wasilla mayor spent nearly 24 hours in town on Friday and Saturday to meet with citizens and community leaders, leaving a flock of energized supporters.
"She's connecting with Alaskans all over the state," said Paulette Simpson, president of the Alaska Federation of Republican Women. "People are feeling a new energy, a new connection with government, that they haven't experienced before."
That energy was evident Saturday at a Republican candidate luncheon hosted by the Capital City Republican Women, where Palin captivated the audience, said she supported the Juneau Access project and eased concerns about moving the state capital.
"I don't support moving the capital," she told the midday crowd at the University of Alaska Southeast recreation center.
Palin said the long standing debate over moving the capital to the state's population center in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley has not been an issue on the campaign trail outside of Juneau, and local residents should be careful to not put it back on the political radar screen. Opportunists bring up the capital move, she told the crowd, because they want to make it a divisive issue.
Patty Ginsburg, spokeswoman for Tony Knowles, the Democratic candidate for governor, said the Palin campaign has been avoiding the "very complex and very thorny issues" Alaskans are facing this election year.
"I'm not sure she really has the substance or depth of understanding of the issues," Ginsburg said, adding that Knowles, a former two-term governor, and Ethan Berkowitz, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, have the proven leadership ability and knowledge of the issues to lead the state in a critical time.
"Tony and Ethan see this as a very clear choice," she said. "It really amounts who can get the job done. Who can get the job done right. And who can get the job done right now. And it's a lot more than slogans."
Kathleen Frederick, a lawyer and member of the CCRW, said Palin is a good choice because she has proven managerial experience.
"In some ways it's helpful that she has not been in the legislature polarizing people," Frederick said.
Palin is a good candidate because of her fresh ideas and her ability to help the state develop economically, CCRW board member Ginger Johnson said. Development of Southeast Alaska is an important part of keeping the capital in Juneau, she said.
"I totally embrace the idea of connecting Juneau with the rest of the state," Johnson said. "I think it is of paramount importance to construct the road and improve the ferry system and provide us with and infrastructure that unites all of the state."
Palin said she would fight for better access to the capital if elected.
"I still can't figure out why folks wouldn't want to be able to allow Alaskans to drive to their capital city," she said. "I think that's a view held by most in Southcentral Alaska and elsewhere around the state. We want to be able to drive to our capital city."
There are not enough problems in the Juneau Access project to stop the progress on the proposed plan, Palin said.
"There's been a lot of work, a lot of human and fiscal resources that have gone toward this plan, and it needs to continue to be allowed to progress."
If the Murkowski administration secures bids for the construction of the road before leaving office, Knowles would not attempt to stop the project, Ginsburg said.
"Tony is not going to go back on signed contracts," she said.
Palin met with a number of different local leaders and groups during this weekend 's whirlwind trip to Juneau, her fifth during this campaign. She met with people from the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, the Alaska Commission and the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, among others.
Palin said she came to the capital to unify a party divided by a bitter primary season. Campaigning in Southeast was difficult prior to the primary election because of funding but Palin said she will visit the area more in the coming months. Ketchikan and Petersburg are on the campaign trail next week.
"I am a Republican and I seek Republican support, but more importantly my campaign has been about, from the very beginning, unifying Alaskans and getting Alaskans together to build momentum to progress the state with new ideas and new energy and new vision," she said.