SENECA FALLS, N.Y. — Governor Sarah Palin paused Friday afternoon at the in front of a monument bearing the Declaration of Sentiments, an early feminist touchstone.
“We anticipate no small amount of ridicule,” she read, and remarked: “Some things never change.”
America’s most famous Republican elected official quietly took a commercial flight into sleepy Central New York Thursday, and spent Friday on a private tour of landmarks of early feminism Harriet Tubman’s House, the Women’s Rights National Historic Park, and the National Women’s Hall of Fame — for the low-key beginning of a week-long return to the lower 48 states and another step in the attempt to recalibrate her public image.
Palin, consumed by the media freak-show during last fall’s presidential campaign and its aftermath, is taking a deliberately low-key path, and making sure to link the visit to her responsibilities as governor.
She’s traveling with her husband, Todd, and her 14-year old daughter, Willow, as well as her sister and nephew, and the public events are deliberately focused and on a human scale. She has a single political aide, spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton, and two volunteer advance men. Her staff have scheduled no mass rallies or major addresses, and made no attempt to court the media, or even inform it of her plans, which have been announced piecemeal by the groups hosting her.
She is to participate in a march to raise money for autism research Sunday in Westchester and accept an award on Long Island for her work on behalf of people with developmental disabilities.
But as the first woman on a national Republican ticket, the party’s top grassroots star, and an obvious contender for the 2012 nomination, she’s a sought-after guest whose every move will be studied for political intent. And for, some of the buzz is too good to pass up. She’s expected to join former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani at a Yankee game. And though she riled Washington allies earlier this year by turning down an invitation to headline this week’s joint fundraiser of the House and Senate Republican campaign committees in Washington, she may now stop by the event, a source said, though Stapleton declined to comment on her schedule.
But Palin, whose popularity at home declined after the presidential campaign, is trying to keep the core of the trip is focused on her native Alaska: Shell be the headliner tomorrow at an event in Auburn marking the 50th Anniversary of Alaska Statehood at the historic home of former Secretary of State William Seward. Seward’s 1867 purchase of Alaska from Russia – Seward’s folly — as it was known at the time, though the label is discouraged around here may have been the most controversial Arctic acquisition until McCain chose to add Palin to his ticket. Local authorities say they expect more than 20,000 people for the Founder’s Day event linking Auburn and Alaska. And Palin will be holding meetings in Washington, D.C. and Texas on a natural resources issue, Stapleton said likely negotiations over a key pipeline project.
Friday, though, Palin started her day at Tubman’s five-room house in Auburn.
“This is so good for our country,” she told the president of the foundation that manages the house, Karen Hill. She admired a 1960s-vintage painting of an angel hovering behind a young African-American boy.
“She knew something had to be taken care of and she stepped up and she did it,” Palin said of Tubman after leaving the house.
Her four-car motorcade, including two black SUVs provided by the New York State Police, then headed to Seneca Falls, where Palin, bright red toenails visible in open shoes, trooped through a museum that focuses on the 19th century origins of the American women’s movement in Upstate New York.
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“It was so recent, yet it feels so foreign,” she said of the time before women had the right to vote, standing in front of pictures of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott.
Palin also remarked with pleasure on a black and white photograph of four women aiming pistols, and passed in silence under another of a woman holding aloft a sign reading, “Black lesbian feminist.”
She then toured the National Women’s Hall of Fame a block away, concluding with a handshake for the town’s mayor, Diana Smith, and a word of cheer for “mommy mayors and girl governors.”
Palin was accompanied only by a reporter and photographer from the Syracuse Post-Standard and a reporter from POLITICO. Earlier in the day, an aide said, she’d greeted some 50 political supporters over breakfast at a local diner.
“I think the more things change, the more they stay the same in some arenas,” she told POLITICO of her own experience as a woman in public life, though she hastened to add that on the presidential campaign, “I don’t know if I was treated any differently.”
It was an honor, she said, “– getting to be here and to see those who have paved the way to allow me and other women standing on their shoulders to progress . I have so much appreciation for all of their efforts, and their success.”
She cited in particular the role of Susan B. Anthony, the feminist pioneer who was also staunchly anti-abortion.
The women’s movement, she said, contains “a common thread of desiring protection for women – for me that includes our youngest sisters – that’s girls in the womb.”
Palin declined to comment on the nomination of the second woman, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, to serve on the Supreme Court.
“A judicial appointment – I don’t consider gender to be any kind of litmus test,” she said. “I would judge her on her credentials and on her record before I would comment on her gender.”
As Palin talked to reporters on Seneca Falls’ main street, Norma Grant, 71, emerged from a beauty parlor with a simple message: “Run, please run.”
“Thank you - you are encouraging,” Palin replied.
Then the Palins stopped for a turkey sandwich at a diner in downtown Seneca Falls where, a little after 1:00 p.m. 9:00 a.m. in Anchorage Stapleton checked the time.
“Alaska’s waking up,” she said.