In a stunning, starmaking two-month burst of attention, Sarah Palin took her home state of Alaska into every American living room. Before the photogenic Palin family hit the scene, the most famous Alaskan was probably the singer Jewel, outpacing Richard Nixon's Interior Secretary Walter Hickel and 2008 Democratic presidential novelty candidate Mike Gravel, a Vietnam-era Senator. After her last-minute nomination to the Republican ticket, every major news organization dispatched reporters to dig into the governor's background and unwrap the state's curious political culture, and soon nearly 100% of Americans had formed an opinion about Palin. (Not to mention her husband Todd, an oil-slope worker and snow-machine champion with Eskimo lineage and the nickname "First Dude.")
Alaska's previous place in the national consciousness resulted from its status as a rugged vacation spot, the setting of the TV series Northern Exposure and the debates over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and over the "bridge to nowhere." Now the 49th state is a political and cultural hot spot, defined as much by mooseburgers, Wasillamania and Palin's trademark glasses as by Troopergate and just-convicted Senator Ted Stevens, whose transgressions highlighted the state's less attractive political practices.