This is not the Sarah and Todd Palin of two months ago. Back then the Alaska governor and her oilman-fisherman husband, both 44, introduced their family to PEOPLE with wide-eyed excitement about the presidential campaign into which Sen. John McCain had suddenly drafted them. PEOPLE’s Sandra Sobieraj Westfall revisited the couple on Oct. 15 in New Hampshire to see how they’ve held up to the massive crowds, punishing pace and sometimes unforgiving scrutiny. Fielding readers’ questions, the parents of five—ages 6 mos. to 19, with a grandbaby on the way—appeared a lot less loose, but happy to sink into the comfortable sofa.
Do you two ever look at each other and just go, “This is insane?”
SARAH: I haven’t had time to yet.
Your crowds are adoring but the criticism sometimes tough. Todd, Elizabeth in Nashville asks, “Is it hard not to stick up for Sarah?”
TODD: When you get into this business, it’s expected. I do [feel protective] but it’s just entertainment.
SARAH: They take their shots; that’s some people’s entertainment.
Tina Fey’s got you locked up. Who would play Todd?
SARAH: Tim McGraw. That’s what they say back home, anyway.
In normal times, who does what around the house?
SARAH: Todd grew up helping to raise a lot of sisters and it was expected that he would be a helpmate to his parents and siblings. It’s just par for the course now that he does as much as I do around the house. In fact you probably do more [laughs], with my busy schedule. Todd has an unconventional work schedule: gone summers commercial fishing and then week-on, week-off in his [oil] job. When he is home, he takes over.
TODD: I have to. If I don’t then there’s no Iron Dog [snowmobile racing], there’s not all the good stuff.
Tina Fey plays you sort of bubble-headed …
SARAH: That’s funny, I play her bubble-headed too when I imitate her.
… but you don’t get to be governor without being smart. Do you think you’re intellectual?
SARAH: Yehhh-sss. And you have to be up on not only current events, but you have to understand the foundation of the issues that you’re working on…. You can’t just go on what is presented you.
How do you get that knowledge?
SARAH: I’m a voracious reader, always have been. I appreciate a lot of information. I think that comes from growing up in a family of schoolteachers.
What do you like to read?
SARAH: Autobiographies, historical pieces—really anything and everything. Besides the kids and sports, reading is my favorite thing to do.
What are you reading now?
SARAH: I’m reading, heh-heh, a lot of briefing papers.
What about for fun?
SARAH: Do we consider The Looming Tower something just for fun? That’s what I’ve been reading on the airplane. It’s about 9/11. If I’m going to read something, for the most part, it’s something beneficial.
Jessica of Yucca Valley, Calif., asks, “When someone screamed, ‘Kill him,’ at your rally, why didn’t you say anything?”
SARAH: I haven’t heard anybody scream “Kill him” at a rally.
Have you read that people in your crowds yelled hateful things about Barack Obama?
SARAH: With 23,000 people at a rally, it would be difficult to pick out one comment. If I heard somebody say something like “Kill him,” I would certainly not condone that … and I would say something.
Your future son-in-law told AP that Obama seems like a nice guy. Tammy of Nashville asks, “Do you like Obama as a person?”
SARAH: I’ve never met him.
Is there anything you like?
SARAH: Oh, I admire that he has dedicated three years to serving Americans in the Senate. And anyone who is willing to put so much on the line because they’re committed to a mission, as Barack Obama obviously is, I can respect that.
Alicia in N.Y.C. asks, “Do you think about having more children?”
SARAH: No-o-o-o. We got our starting five. That’s the final five.
Alicia also wondered if you had any more unique names up your sleeve.
SARAH: We did. We never got to get our Zamboni in. I always wanted a son named Zamboni.
Will everyone move to Washington, D.C., if you win?
SARAH: Well, Bristol will be starting her own family and Track will be [with the Army] still fighting the war, but the little kids and Todd and I will.
You’re not the first parents to cope with a teenage pregnancy. What was your reaction?
SARAH: Just a very quick acknowledgement that Bristol and her fiancé will have to grow up a lot quicker. But she is quite mature, very kindhearted and a very strong young woman. She’s also kind of an old soul who’s beyond any desire to be out there partying. It will all be good.
Do you worry about her finishing high school or going to college?
SARAH: No. She’s a very smart girl. She’s got great grades. She’s always been a very good athlete, very plugged into school.
Has this changed how you talk about sex with your other children?
SARAH: I’ve always been a proponent of making sure kids understand—even in schools—they’d better take preventative measures so that they don’t find themselves in these less-than-ideal circumstances. Perhaps Bristol could be a good example to other young women that life happens and preventative measures are, first and foremost, the option that should be considered.
Abstinence or contraception?
SARAH: Well, both. Ideally abstinence. But we have not been ones to say that students should not know what preventative measures are all about.
Carlie from Winston-Salem, N.C., asks, “If Sen. McCain doesn’t win, will you run for President in 2012? I will be old enough to vote then and you have my vote.”
SARAH: Awww, that is so nice to hear. But our focus is between now and Nov. 4.
Can you go home again and just be an Alaskan?
SARAH: I can always go home again and just be Mom and be perfectly happy and fulfilled with the blessings that God has given us.
For more of PEOPLE’s Palin interview, go to people.com/palin