Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin set aside politics only briefly Saturday to help Auburn officials celebrate their inaugural Founder's Day and raise money for a museum honoring William Seward, the 19th-century U.S. secretary of state who acquired Alaska for the United States.
More than 20,000 people turned out to see the former Republican vice presidential candidate lead a parade through downtown Auburn and sign a proclamation on the steps of City Hall honoring Seward as "the one person most responsible for Alaska."
But after spending a day and a half as a tourist visiting some of the upstate New York region's most historic sites, Palin turned back into a politician at a private fundraiser for the Seward House museum, where she had sharp words for President Barack Obama's national security and energy policies and his handling of the nation's economic crisis.
"It's clear to many that some of our priorities as a nation are reversed," Palin told the several hundred people who each paid $100 or more to attend a garden party on the museum grounds. "Alaskans get tired of hearing that Washington bureaucrats know what's best for us so we push and fight and challenge decisions made inside the Beltway when they are not in the best interests of the country, and we know that decisions that are being made recently are not in the country's best interests."
‘Run, Sarah, run!’
Palin, who emerged as a leading voice in the Republican Party after Arizona Sen. John McCain picked her as his running mate in the contest against Obama, is thought to be considering a run for president in 2012. Auburn residents welcomed her to the podium at City Hall with a chant of "Run, Sarah, run!"
As she spoke, about a dozen protesters from the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, a lobbying group that seeks to protect wildlife and the environment, held up signs condemning her continued promotion of the aerial hunting of wolves, but the large crowd was mostly receptive to her appearance.
Palin rode the mile-long parade route in a red convertible, getting out to walk about 100 yards while carrying small U.S. and Alaska state flags in each hand. Spectators yelled out "Welcome, Sarah" and "Thanks for coming" as Palin waved back.
Local resident Chris Stone, with his wife and three children, said he didn't care for Palin's politics but didn't want to miss the chance to see her in person.
"You can see by the turnout, she's become a personality and a historical figure," said Stone, who voted for Obama. "I know all these people aren't Republicans. This is a chance to see someone who has had a big impact on history."
At City Hall, Palin spoke for about 10 minutes, praising Seward for his foresight and courage.
"We are blessed that William Seward recognized what Alaska could offer with our strategic location, with our resources that today could help secure the United States and make us less reliant on foreign sources of energy," Palin said.
Palin noted that Seward was harshly criticized at the time for buying Alaska but "sought to do what was right, not what was easy."
Seward, who lived much of his adult life in Auburn, was U.S. secretary of state under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. He negotiated the deal for the U.S. to buy Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million. Decried by critics as "Seward's folly," the purchase became one of his greatest legacies.
Alaska became the nation's 49th state on Jan. 3, 1959.
Palin and her entourage arrived in upstate New York on Friday. She toured the home of Harriet Tubman, the Civil War-era abolitionist who led dozens of slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad and is buried in Auburn. Later Friday, she traveled to Seneca Falls to visit the National Women's Hall of Fame and Women's Rights National Historic Park.
Palin's trip was paid for by her political action committee, SarahPAC.
Palin's trips have been an issue in the past. The Alaska governor has been given until June 23 to reimburse the state for an estimated $10,000 in costs associated with trips taken by her children, under an agreement resolving an ethics complaint against her.
Her husband and daughter Willow, as well as Palin's sister and her son, accompanied the governor to upstate New York. On Sunday, she's scheduled to be on Long Island to raise money for Independent Group Home Living, an agency for the developmentally disabled.