JUNEAU, Alaska — As Alaska governor, Sarah Palin struggled with the gossip about her family and marriage.
As the newly minted Republican vice presidential nominee, she was dismayed by the sudden onslaught of questions from reporters, especially one about whether she believed dinosaurs and humans existed at the same time. She also dealt with death threats.
At least once, she prayed for strength. Other times, she fired off messages to her aides, most fierce when the subject was defending her record or her family. She also received a series of flattering from the public about her political future long before she ascended to the national stage.
The glimpse into Palin came in more than 24,000 pages of emails released Friday from her first 21 months as governor. They showed a Palin involved closely in the day-to-day business of the state while trying to cope with the increasing pressures that came with her rise from small-town mayor to governor to national prominence.
The emails were packed into six boxes, weighing 250 pounds in all, stacked in a small office in a complex of buildings near the state capitol in Juneau.
Within minutes of the release, Palin tweeted a link to the website for "The Undefeated," a documentary about her time as governor and her arrival on the national political stage.
Her supporters, meanwhile, encouraged everyone to read the messages. "The emails detail a Governor hard at work," said Tim Crawford, the treasurer of her political action committee, Sarah PAC, in a prepared statement.
Palin is among the top tier of potential 2012 presidential candidates in polls of Republican voters. Her recent bus tour of the Northeast fueled speculation about her national ambitions. She has said she has not yet decided whether she will run.
The emails were first requested during the 2008 White House race by citizens and news organizations, including The Associated Press, as they vetted a nominee whose political experience included less than one term as governor and a term as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.
The nearly three-year delay in releasing the material has been attributed largely to the sheer volume. Lawyers went through every page to redact sensitive government information. Another reason was the nearly 500 open records requests during Palin's tenure, and the state's decision to deal with smaller, easier ones first.
The emails cover the period from the time Palin took office in December 2006 to her ascension to GOP vice presidential candidate in September 2008.
In the months before she became presidential nominee John McCain's running mate, the emails showed a governor dealing with complaints, rumors and gossip about her family. In several, she asked about the identity of someone who alleged that she had not buckled her son, Trig, properly into his car seat.
In another, she lamented about gossip about her family and marriage. Palin and her daughter, Bristol, appeared to be traveling in a car, and Bristol emailed a Palin staffer in July 2008: "Mom and I were just praying about the hurt and anger that comes with her job. Thank you for your faith in God.
"We share it and we love you!" Bristol wrote, from her mother's personal email account.
The vice presidential nomination of the little-known Alaska governor startled much of the country in August 2008, but Palin was noticed months earlier by conservatives looking for a fresh face to join McCain on the GOP ticket. Palin began getting attention in June that year after appearing on Glenn Beck's program on the Fox News Channel.
"You would make an excellent president (forget being VP!!!)," wrote a Virginia woman on June 4, 2008, after a Palin appearance on Fox. "It is so refreshing to hear someone speak in a common sense manner."
The emails portrayed Palin as a close reader of news accounts, wanting to correct things she believed to be – or were in fact – wrong. "Will ktuu (an Anchorage TV station) and adn (Anchorage Daily News) be corrected re: the "internal investigation"? I did not request it, as they are both reporting," she wrote in an Aug. 13, 2008, email.
After she was elevated to the national ticket, news organizations began vetting Palin's record. She was accused of essentially turning over questions about her gubernatorial record to McCain's campaign managers, part of an ambitious GOP strategy to limit any embarrassing disclosures and carefully shape her image for voters in the rest of the country.
On Sept. 13, 2008, her then-spokesman, Bill McAllister, wrote to Palin at her government account: "Governor, Got your message just now; didn't quite understand. Mike said yesterday to refer most things to the campaign. That pretty much has been the practice lately."
On Sept. 15, 2008, Palin responded to a host of news media questions presented to her by McAllister. Among them was one about a tanning bed at the governor's mansion and whether it was her "belief that dinosaurs and humans co-existed at one time?"
"I am so sorry that the office is swamped like this! Dinosaurs even?! I'll try to run through some of these in my head before responding," Palin wrote. "And the old, used tanning bed that my girls have used handful of times in Juneau? Yes, we paid for it ourselves. I, too, will continue to be dismayed at the media."
On Sept. 17, 2008, Palin forwarded a profanity-laced email from a man claiming to be a Juneau resident from her government account to two aides.
"You need to be shot from one of the planes that shoot th (sic) very wolves that you ordered," according to the email. "I own guns, and will fight any gun owner hands down witha (sic) simple throwing knife, how about you palin ,,,want to go hunting for wolves still? lets make you run in your heels ..."
The emails also showed the support that national political figures gave Palin on a variety of issues.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich offered advice to a McCain-Palin campaign manager on how to blunt the impact of a September 2008 Washington Post report that she accepted $17,000 in per diem payments for time she spent at her Wasilla home.
Gingrich said the campaign should elaborate on its initial defense that Palin didn't charge the state for money she could have collected to spend on her kids.
The emails also provided details about how Palin was involved in various gubernatorial duties, including priorities like a natural gas pipeline from far northern Alaska to ship natural gas to the Lower 48.
Palin resigned in early July 2009, almost a year and a half before her term would have expired. Requests also have been made for emails from Palin's final 10 months in office. State officials haven't begun reviewing those records. Sharon Leighow, a former Palin staffer and now the spokeswoman for Gov. Sean Parnell, said she doubted those emails would be released soon.
The voluminous nature of the release, the isolation of Juneau and the limited bandwidth in the city of 30,000 people has forced media outlets to come up with creative ways to transmit the information. The AP plans to scan the paper copies to make searchable files available to its members and clients.
Mike Oreskes, the AP's senior managing editor for national news, said the news cooperative requested the emails when Palin rose out of relative obscurity.
Oreskes said public records requests are a common tool that the news organization uses to research candidates, with more than 1,500 requests filed across the country in 2009 and an additional 1,000 in 2010.
"Palin is one of many officeholders whose public record and leadership the AP has sought to illuminate by obtaining emails, memos and other documents," he said. "She's maintained a sizable profile in the current political scene and may run for president. We are pressing to obtain the records of other presidential contenders in the months ahead."
The emails were sent and received by Palin's personal and state email accounts, and the ones being released were deemed state business-related. Palin and top aides were known to communicate using private email accounts.
Once the state reviewed the records, it gave Palin's attorneys an opportunity to see if they had any privacy concerns with what was being released. No emails were withheld or redacted as a result of that, said Linda Perez, Parnell's administrative director in charge of coordinating the release.
Another 2,275 pages are being withheld for reasons including attorney-client, work product or executive privilege; an additional 140 pages were deemed to be "non-records," or unrelated to state business.
The release of the emails generated widespread interest online.
Many news organizations, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and msnbc.com, began scanning and posting the emails on their websites throughout the day. The New York Times asked readers to join reporters in reviewing the documents. Tidbits of the emails were featured on blogs and Twitter.
"It's insane," said Tony Leadholm, an academic counselor at the University of California, Davis and a Republican who finds Palin too conservative for his taste. "It seems anywhere you go, the release of these emails is in your face and there's war going on and actual real people who have actually declared their intent to run for president."