COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- It seemed like just another tarmac arrival. Sarah Palin would wave, shake hands with local Republican officials and get into her SUV. The fact that it was Sunday evening and dark out meant none of the reporters were optimistic about their chances to ask questions.
But Palin took all those around her by surprise when she walked past her waiting car at the Colorado Springs airport and towards a truck carrying several local cameramen and reporters. Palin started chitchatting as the national press scurried over, and pretty soon, a full-blown press availability was under way. Palin took about 10 questions, ignoring staffers who kept trying to end it. As she walked away, she said she'd take more questions at the ice cream shop where they were stopping along the way. And she did.
Is this the new Sarah Palin? Since bursting onto the national scene less than two months ago, Palin has been routinely criticized for being less than accessible to the media. But she seems to be warming to the press, holding several impromptu talks with reporters, sitting down with local affiliates nearly every day and becoming a fixture on conservative talk radio.
And then there's "Saturday Night Live." Palin got some of her best media attention last weekend for her visit to the NBC sketch comedy show that has lampooned her famously in the past few weeks. She played it safe -- acting more as the straight woman than delivering memorable punch lines -- but seemed to garner credit just for showing up.
It's a far cry from where she was two months ago. While Palin was, by all accounts, accessible as governor of Alaska, she was virtually locked away from the media as a vice presidential candidate. Giving so few interviews meant the spotlight on each one grew, and missteps -- like when she cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as a foreign-policy credential -- were magnified. Bad press from her infrequent interviews in turn exacerbated the campaign's media-shy, even media-bashing, strategy.
Add to that several issues that the campaign didn't want to address, including the investigation into whether Palin abused her power as governor by trying to get her former brother-in-law fired as a state trooper. After a legislative investigation in Alaska concluded earlier this month that she did, the issue became yet another reason to keep the press at arm's length.
But while the campaign has been hesitant to have Palin address such concerns head-on, she's proven in recent days her ability to deliver a message directly to reporters and make news just for doing so. On the tarmac Sunday, Palin made it into the news cycle by suggesting she wasn't a big fan of the negative robocalls currently being sent out by her own ticket and the Republican National Committee.
"If I called all the shots, and if I could wave a magic wand, I would be sitting at a kitchen table with more and more Americans, talking to them about our plan to get the economy back on track and winning the war and not having to rely on the old conventional ways of campaigning that includes those robocalls," she said. She demurred, however, when asked if she condemned the practice.
Sunday's impromptu press conference was her second in three days. By comparison, running mate John McCain has not held a press availability since Sept. 23, despite a reputation for being open with the media. On the Democratic side, Barack Obama last spoke to a pool of reporters a week ago and hasn't taken questions from the full traveling press since Sept. 25 -- and even then, he took only a few queries. Palin's counterpart, Joe Biden, took impromptu questions last week but hasn't had a full press availability in more than a month.
Campaign aides acknowledge Palin's increasing comfort level, saying she needed time to adjust to the national scene; still, they still question the benefit of putting their candidate in front of the traveling press. But if the current thawing trend continues, they could find themselves stuck between a hungry media mob and a former television sportscaster who might walk right up to the cameras herself at any time.