Covering Sarah Palin campaign from the Nome front

While many in this Bering Sea burg have seen Russia, they don't feel qualified to be on the presidential ticket.

NOME, ALASKA

Yes, Nome.

Why not?

I wanted to see the real Alaska, and I was told that would require me to get beyond Anchorage, which is sometimes derided as Los Anchorage because of its enormous population (280,000) and sprawling suburbs.

Nome is way, way, way out west on the Bering Sea, reachable only by plane, boat or dog sled. And as vice presidential candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said, in trying to put voters at ease about her foreign affairs credentials, you can see Russia from this part of the state.

So I landed on this edge-of-nowhere burg (pop. 3,600, give or take a few Eskimos) and headed into town expecting to find lots of Palin supporters and perhaps even a few potential foreign policy advisors in the event of a John McCain-Sarah Palin administration.

It turns out lots of people here have seen Russia, but none of them felt qualified to be vice president or take on a Cabinet position. I borrowed some binoculars and got excited when I zoomed in on a large land mass just to the west.

"That's not Russia," said Norbert Thomas, an Inupiat Eskimo who was carving a piece of driftwood near the beach on a balmy and sunny, 50-degree day. "It's Sledge Island."

I tried to talk politics, but Thomas said he wasn't interested. Besides, he said, "If I don't carve, I don't eat."

My first big surprise came when I dropped by the Nome Nugget, which calls itself Alaska's oldest newspaper.

"Rural Alaska is mostly Democratic," said editor and publisher Nancy McGuire.

I wondered, then, how Palin's approval ratings as governor were as high as 80%. That's an easy one, McGuire said. The state population is concentrated in and around Anchorage and Wasilla, where she's the hometown girl.

"Shows what they know," said McGuire, a sassy old salt whose shack of an office sits on Front Street, a saloon-studded strip that was teeming with gold-rush prospectors 100 years ago.

Sure, McGuire said, on a crystal-clear day from the nearby village of Wales or from one of the islands, you can see Big Diomede Island in Russia or maybe even the distant cloud cover on the Russian mainland. But it's not like you can smell the Smirnoff or wave to Vladimir Putin.

When McGuire told me that she once flew near Big Diomede for a college class and that her plane was chased away by a Russian MIG, I suggested she might be in line to become secretary of State.

"I'll go for president," she said, noting that she has more Russia experience than Palin. "I've seen it closer."

To be honest, I hadn't expected to find a member of the liberal media elite in the town that serves as terminus for the Iditarod mush trail. McGuire's views are not local gospel, though.

Mary Knodel, who runs the Arctic Trading Post, is a Palin fan, and not just because she's selling the hot biography, "Sarah: How a Hockey Mom Turned Alaska's Political Establishment Upside Down."

"She's a breath of fresh air," said Knodel, calling Palin unafraid to stand up to Big Oil or Alaska's GOP establishment.

And don't worry about foreign affairs, Knodel said.

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