Sarah Palin, born Sarah Louise Heath (1964- ), American political leader who became governor of Alaska in January 2007 and was chosen as the Republican vice-presidential nominee for 2008 on the ticket led by Senator John McCain.
The third of four siblings, she was born February 11, 1964, in Sandpoint, Idaho. She moved with her family to Alaska as an infant, living in Skagway and Eagle River before settling in Wasilla, a town near Anchorage. Her mother, a school secretary, and her father, a schoolteacher and sports coach, were outdoors enthusiasts, and cross-country running, hunting, and fishing were favorite family pastimes. A point guard in basketball, she was co-captain of the state-championship-winning Wasilla High School basketball team in 1982, playing with such ferocity she was nicknamed "Sarah Barracuda." She earned a bachelor's degree (1987) in journalism from the University of Idaho, and a year later eloped with her boyfriend since high school, Todd Palin (1964- ), a commercial fisherman, oil worker, and snowmachine racing champion. They have five children, the youngest of whom was born in 2008 with Down syndrome.
Besides working as a sports broadcaster and in business ventures with her husband, Palin served Wasilla as city council member (1992-96) and mayor (1996-2002). In 2002, after losing a primary race for lieutenant governor of Alaska, she campaigned for the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Frank Murkowski (1933- ); after he won, he rewarded her with a seat on the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. As the commission's ethics supervisor (2003-4), she spearheaded an investigation into conflicts of interest involving a Republican party leader and fellow commissioner. Her role in exposing corruption placed her at odds with Alaska's Republican party establishment. But it also gained her a reputation as a political maverick--which helped her to overwhelm Murkowski in the 2006 Republican gubernatorial primary; she went on to win the governorship in November.
Highly popular among Alaskans during her first 18 months as governor, she secured passage of an ethics bill, promoted energy development, and killed construction programs favored by other Alaska Republicans. More controversially, she was under investigation for charges that she had dismissed the state public safety commissioner because of his failure to fire a state trooper who had been involved in a bitter child custody dispute with her sister.
A surprise choice, Palin was little known nationally when McCain announced her as his choice for running mate in the 2008 presidential race. Social conservatives praised her record of opposition to abortion and support for gun rights; critics argued that she was lacking in experience. Shortly after the announcement it was disclosed that her unmarried 17-year-old daughter was pregnant, but both campaigns dismissed this as an issue. Her speech at the Republican National Convention helped energized the party base and analysts saw her choice as part of an effort to sway women disappointed that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton had not gained a place on the 2008 Democratic ticket. Palin followed Geraldine Ferraro, as the second woman selected by a major U.S. political party to run for vice-president.