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Still rogue, Palin embraces media

By Peter Hamby, CNN Political Reporter
Sarah Palin, shown here arriving at Trump Tower on Tuesday in New York, has been media-friendly lately.
Sarah Palin, shown here arriving at Trump Tower on Tuesday in New York, has been media-friendly lately.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Locked into an exclusive TV contract, Palin has been super-accessible.
  • Daughter Piper has even been seen swatting mics out of her mother's face
  • Palin's 'One Nation' tour is making its way through the United States

Editor's note: CNN Political reporter Peter Hamby followed Sarah Palin's "One Nation" bus from Washington D.C. to New Hampshire this week

Portsmouth, New Hampshire (CNN) -- In the end, Sarah Palin made nice with what she likes to call the "lame-stream" media.

Reporters were kept in the dark about Palin's whereabouts during her "One Nation" bus tour and were forced to depend on sources or tips from park rangers to figure out which historical site the former Alaska governor might appear at next.

Her strategy is unlikely to change as the patriotism-themed tour makes its way through the Midwest, West and South later this month.

But once reporters tracked her down, Palin was eager to engage. At stop after stop after stop, she answered questions on everything from energy subsidies to the debt ceiling to her favorite brand of designer jeans.

At times, it seemed like Palin was going rogue all over again.

Though still under an exclusive contract with Fox News Channel, Palin was raring to mix it up with a political press corps that, in her eyes, has underestimated her ever since she was thrust into the national spotlight as John McCain's running mate in 2008.

Palin plays cat and mouse
Piper pipes up
On the road with Sarah Palin
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Palin's refusal to inform the media of her itinerary grabbed headlines, but the storyline overshadowed the fact that the brigade of reporters chasing Palin were usually able to get a heads up on her next move and arrive prepared at the next stop.

Video: Palin, Romney in 2012 stoplight Video

The Palin team's stubborn and unconventional game plan also fed an inaccurate media narrative that the potential presidential candidate was actively ignoring the media.

Quite the opposite.

Putting aside her chaotic appearance at the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally on Sunday, an event that generated little news other than pictures of a black-clad Palin riding on the back of a Harley, she took questions from the media 17 different times over the course of four days.

That's a remarkable number for any national political figure, particularly for one locked into an exclusive television contract that normally precludes her from talking to other media outlets.

Some of the week's interactions were clearly more productive than others.

Her visits to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia generated a crush of media so large that her daughter Piper was body-blocking reporters and swatting microphones out of her mother's face. No one had a chance to ask a serious question.

And she botched details of Paul Revere's midnight ride while speaking to the press at a stop along Boston's Freedom Trail.

But Palin seemed at ease at most events, lingering outside her bus or SUV to answer every possible question despite Piper's best efforts to drag her away and helpless shouts of "Last question!" from her aides.

During a stop at a café in central Pennsylvania, even her normally reticent husband Todd opened up to reporters about his family's readiness for a potential campaign.

At a clambake in the coastal New Hampshire town of Seabrook on Wednesday, Palin cheerfully chatted at length with a pack of reporters from national outlets like CNN, NBC, CBS, The Washington Post, Time and Bloomberg.

During the roughly 15-minute back-and-forth, she issued a sharp criticism of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner when asked about the debt ceiling, jabbed at Afghan President Hamid Karzai and played coy about her recent home purchase in Arizona.

By contrast, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's press conferences this year have typically lasted about seven minutes before an aide calls for a wrap.

Did Palin upstage Romney's presidential run announcement?

Palin's newfound habit of opening up to the press made a major political impact on Thursday when, during a tour of the Bunker Hill monument, she tore into Romney's health care record at about the same time Romney was officially announcing his presidential campaign.

She then stayed a few minutes longer to give her thoughts on the state of the Republican presidential field before jumping into a waiting car.

And by the time her final event of the week concluded on Thursday morning -- a breakfast with New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte in Portsmouth -- she had given reporters so much access that they ditched Palin and flocked to Ayotte instead, hungry for a fresh angle.

The moment evoked McCain's famous habit of gabbing with reporters on his "Straight Talk Express" bus for so long that they would sometimes run out of questions.

Palin advisers flagged another similarity: Palin's bus driver is none other than Jay Fry, a Cincinnati native who happened to be behind the wheel of McCain's "Straight Talk" bus in 2008. The comparisons probably end there. Those McCain interviews took place on his bus. The only media allowed on board Palin's bus this week worked for Fox News.

"It's a different scenario," Todd Palin said Tuesday when asked if other reporters might hop on board with her like they did with McCain. "She's employed by Fox."

If the twinkle in her eye as she faced down the media hordes this week is any indication, she might soon be looking for employment of a different kind.

 
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