Sharon Peek, Alan Morgan, Adele Morgan and Curtis D. Menard, longtime friends of Gov. Sarah Palin, watched her speech from Wasilla, Alaska.
By KIM SEVERSON
Published: September 4, 2008
WASILLA — The folks who had settled in on the couch to watch little Sarah Palin, now the pit bull in lipstick running for vice president, give the most important speech of her short career were ones who know her best.
There was Curt Menard, her dentist and a political mentor. His boy, Curtis, was one of Ms. Palin’s best friends and godfather to her eldest son, Track. Curtis died in a plane crash seven years ago.
There was Adele Morgan, a singer and songwriter who has been friends and church buddies with Ms. Palin since elementary school. She was just at a baby shower, singing to Ms. Palin’s son, Trig, who has Down syndrome.
And then there was Sharon Peek, who taught a young Sarah Palin to tap dance.
“She had trouble with step-ball-change and she came back after class until she got it right,” she said.
Mrs. Peek was so nervous she skipped yoga to come over and watch a moment no one who grew up with Ms. Palin could have predicted a week ago: her acceptance speech for the vice presidency of the United States.
While the governor’s dog, named AGIA after Ms. Palin’s gas pipeline project, played in the yard, the gathered Palin faithful fought the surreal feeling of watching the little girl they knew — who had butchered moose in the basement and made up crazy dances to pop tunes — on the national stage.
“This is completely freaking me out,” said Ms. Morgan.
Mr. Menard’s house, which looks over Memory Lake and the Chugach mountain range, is decorated with several framed posters of polar bears, stuffed moose heads and photographs of his family and his years in the state legislature.
His late son’s 1982 yearbook was on the kitchen table. On the front page, a teenaged Sarah Palin had written, “Thanks for giving us “athletic” girls your support. God Bless You always.”
Mr. Menard moved to this area of Alaska in 1972, when it was much more remote. Now it has grown to about 60,000 people, and is considered a bedroom community of Anchorage, which is almost an hour’s drive south.
Like almost everyone in Alaska this night — supporter or not — he tried not to be nervous for the hometown girl’s big debut.
“In my opinion she’ll be nervous until she gets out there and starts,” he said. “Once she starts, she’ll do fine.”
While they waited, they watched how the rest of the family appeared on television.
“Look, Track is there. Nice haircut,” said Ms. Morgan, who added that Levi Johnston, the father of daughter Bristol’s pending baby, looked nice all cleaned up like that.
“Todd’s pretty slicked up too,” said Mrs. Peek. “It cracks me up every time I see him in a tie.”
“Wow. Cindy McCain is holding the baby,” said Ms. Morgan.
“That kid has been held by more people who are well-known before he is six months old than any baby I’ve know,” said Mr. Menard.
Later, when little Piper licked her hand and smoothed Trig’s hair, the room exploded in laughter.
“That’s so them,” said Mrs. Peek. “They couldn’t even put this together if they were trying to make a movie.”
When Ms. Palin walked to the podium, everyone in the room stood and applauded. The enthusiasm quickly gave away to concern. Her hair was not in its traditional upswept style. Was this a sign that Senator John McCain’s campaign handlers had messed with their friend’s speaking style, too?
Forty minutes later, the answer was no.
“She is very determined and focused, you’re seeing it right there,” said Mr. Menard.
Sure, large parts of the speech were clearly not hers. And she usually didn’t lean forward like that when she made a point. But that pursed lip thing? Where her lower jaw juts out a little when she’s looking tough?
“Oh, this is so Sarah,” he said. “When she twists her mouth that way that’s her.”
“That’s just like her mother Sally,” said Ms. Morgan.
All in all, what America saw Wednesday night was just the beginning, her friends said.
“That’s why we’re so excited,” said Mrs. Peek. “She doesn’t change. I just keep picturing her at lunches and meetings. They’re going to be shocked because this is who she is.”
“All this stuff is definitely from her heart,” said Ms. Morgan, including all the smack talk about Senator Barack Obama.
“She can be very, what should we say, fierce?” she said.
As her speech went on, they wondered if anyone could remember who her speech teacher had been in high school. They mused that Tim Russert, if he were still alive, would love their Sarah. They noted that the attacks on Mr. Obama were classic Palin pit bull.
At the end, everyone applauded and wiped away tears.
“I give her an A-plus-plus,” said her mentor, Mr. Menard. “It was stronger and had more emphasis than I though it would, and I could tell she meant it.”
Ms. Morgan can’t wait for the debates. “Then they’ll really see her.”
And they liked the conservative commentator at the end, who said she was glad Ms. Palin balanced power and femininity.
“That’s an Alaska woman for you,” said Ms. Morgan. “She can pee in the woods, then put on lipstick and go out to dinner.”