Now that Gov. Sarah Palin’s daughter has celebrated her 18th birthday, the GOP vice-presidential candidate says she’s hoping Bristol and fiancé Levi Johnston – who are expecting a baby in December – will tie the knot well before the date next summer the young couple had been eyeing.
“Hopefully before that,” Sarah Palin tells PEOPLE in an Oct. 15 interview for the issue on newsstands this Friday. “Bristol turns 18 in a few days [Oct. 18]. That’s what we wanted her to wait for: 18, and a decision on her own about how she’s going to go forward, her and Levi, at this point.”
Taking a break between campaign speeches in New Hampshire, Palin and her husband, Todd, both 44, spoke about Bristol, Tina Fey and sex ed. They also responded to PEOPLE readers’ questions about politics, life with five kids – ages 6 months to 19 years – and what’s next for the Alaska governor, win or lose:
Do you two ever look at each other and just go, This is insane?
Sarah Palin: I haven’t had time to yet. (She clicks her tongue twice and pats Todd on the knee.)
With the kids traveling, how do they keep up with school?
SP: They’ve been going back and forth and bringing schoolwork with them. Yeah. It’s workin’. With our help and Grandma’s and Grandpa’s help.
Your crowds are adoring but the criticism is sometimes tough. Todd, Elizabeth in Nashville asks, Is it hard not to stick up for Sarah?
TODD PALIN: When you get into this business, it’s expected. I do [feel protective] but it’s just entertainment.
SP: They take their shots; that’s some people’s entertainment.
We’ve seen her as the Supermom and Power Chick, if you’ll pardon the expression. You’ve seen her softer side.
TP: When she’s working for me out there in my fishing boat, she’s pretty vulnerable. It’s my element.
SP: He’s the boss out there on the boat while we commercial fish. Yeah. That’s a different story then.
You’re not one of those I-broke-a-fingernail outdoorswomen?
SP: No time for that, no. You have to be tough out there. You don’t come back on the boat if you’re going to whine and complain about being cold or tired. You do what you have to do to get the job done.
Tina Fey’s got you locked up. Who would play Todd?
SP: Tim McGraw. That’s what they say back home, anyway. Some of the kids tell our kids, “Your dad, when he wears his hat, he looks like Tim McGraw.” It’s good.
What types of things do you argue or bicker about back home?
SP: We don’t have a whole lot of time to argue and bicker. It’s a team effort how we get from point A to point B every day with everything that needs to get done.
TP: The normal challenges, it’s the kids’ schedules, where they go and who’s coming over.
And that’s mostly fallen to you now –
TP: Well we’ve always shared that responsibility, especially with my [oil-drilling] slope job. So, when I’m gone with work, she’s got both hats on. When I come home, I try to carry both hats, as long as I don’t disrupt their schedule.
In normal times, who does what around the house?
SP: 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.
TP: I have to. If I don’t then there’s no Iron Dog [snowmobile racing], there’s not all the good stuff.
Mm-hmm. The payoffs.
SP: No. It’s truly a partnership where we share the workload because We’ve never really looked at it as a workload. It’s a pleasure to be home, it’s a pleasure to be working with the kids. We enjoy cooking, we enjoy cleaning up together. It’s just what we do.
Who’s the better cook?
SP: It depends on what we’re cooking. I’m a better –
TP: She’s a good cook.
SP: I’m a better cooker. You’re a better, like he can smoke salmon better than anybody else that I know. And can salmon. We eat a lot of wild Alaska seafood and we’re trying different recipes all the time with that. You do a couple of those dishes better than I do.
TP: Barbecue, yeah.
SP: Barbecued salmon.
Tina Fey plays you sort of bubble-headed. You obviously –
SP: That’s funny, I play her bubble-headed, too, when I imitate her.
– but you don’t get to be governor without being smart, so how would you describe your smarts?
SP: How would I describe my smarts?
Do you think you’re intellectual?
SP: Yessss. 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 as a governor. I had to do the same thing as a mayor. So it is not just current events but it’s much more in-depth than that to understand how, in the case of me being governor, how did our state get to the position that we are in order for a decision to have to be made. You can’t just go on what is presented you. You have to know the background, you have to know the players involved before you make a policy call. So, um, it’s uh, it’s a good job, it’s a tough job and it’s a very, very serious job. And no. You don’t get to be a governor by being –
TP: – going with the wind.
SP: Yeah definitely. You don’t just go with the flow and take a political pulse on policy. You have to go with what the foundational knowledge is that you have on issues in front of you and you have to put the people you are serving, put them first. You put them before partisanship you put them before special interests. That’s how you make decisions as governor.
How do you get that knowledge?
SP: 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 also where reading and seizing educational opportunities was top on my parents’ agenda. That was instilled in me.
What do you like to read?
SP: Autobiographies, historical pieces – really anything and everything. Besides the kids and sports, reading is my favorite thing to do.
What are you reading now?
SP: I’m reading, heh-heh, a lot of briefing papers on a lot of issues that are in front of us in this campaign.
What about for fun?
SP: Do we consider The Looming Tower something that was 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.
Some national issues are different than what you’ve focused on in Alaska. Now that you’ve been at this national campaign for a while, are there areas you’ve discovered you’d like to study up on more?
SP: The overall mission here in a national campaign is the same mission that I was on in a state campaign and in my job serving the state and before that, in a local city campaign and in my job serving a community and that is making sure that the people who hire you are going to be put first in all the decisions that you make. Overall, it’s the same mission that I’m on and in this case also it’s supporting I think the perfect running mate, someone who is ready to lead our country through the economic crisis that we’re in right now, lead us into victory in these wars that we’re fighting. So same mission, that being serving the people who will hire us.
What have you heard from your son overseas? [Track, 19, is deployed with the Army in Iraq.]
SP: He’s doing well. Not a complaint. I visited the troops over there, and I was so pleased and appreciative of our troops, my son included, where you don’t hear them complain. You don’t hear them complain about the heat or the dozens of pounds of equipment that they’re carrying, none of the conditions that we would consider adverse and burdensome. I’ve never heard any of our soldiers complain and my son has been the same way in discussions with him.
Jessica of Yucca Valley, Calif., wants to know, When someone screamed, ‘Kill him,’ at your rally, why didn’t you say anything?
SP: 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?
SP: 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 –
SP: What I have heard though are comments like Barack Obama has made outright asking his supporters to go out there and argue with us and ‘get in their face.’ I’ve heard things like that directly from, of course, Barack Obama via the news waves. But I haven’t heard such a mean-spirited and ugly comment as you mentioned at one of our rallies.
Your future son-in-law told the Associated Press that Obama seems like a nice guy. Tammy of Nashville asks, Do you like Obama as a person?
SP: I’ve never met him.
Is there anything you like?
SP: 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 in terms of giving up privacy and, at least in our case, almost being in a position of having to allow your family to take unfair shots – because they’re committed to a mission, as Barack Obama obviously is, I can respect that. Yeah.
Alicia in New York City asks, Do you think about having more children?
SP: 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.
SP: We did. We never got to get our Zamboni in. I always wanted a son named Zamboni.
TP: I don’t think that would have flied.
Shelli of Charlotte, N.C., was curious about your favorite family vacations?
TP: To the cabin. Safari Lake. New Year’s Eve.
SP: Up to the cabin, yeah. That’s when all the family gets together and lots of our neighbors from Wasilla, we all pack up the trailers the snow machine trailers and head on up about 70 miles north so we can ring in the new year out in the snow, in the great outdoors, and under the Northern Lights. It’s been an absolute beautiful night each night we’ve been out there.
Have you traveled with the kids anywhere in the lower 48?
SP: Yes. Many, many, many times. Yes. Yes. We go to Hawaii often. That’s a good trip for Alaskans because it’s a direct flight down there. We’ve been to California quite a few times. Washington State quite a few times to see relatives.
TP: We enjoy our road trips –
SP: We LOVE road trips.
TP: – driving from Alaska to the lower 48.
SP: Our son a few years ago was playing hockey in Minnesota, and we missed him so much that we jumped in one of our four-door trucks and drove from Alaska to Minnesota so that we could see him for a few hours. It also gave us a good excuse to travel that part of the country with the girls also.
How long a drive is that? A week?
SP: Not the way Todd drives. And Todd never sleeps!
Will everyone move to Washington if you win?
SP: 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. How did you get that news and what was your reaction?
SP: Just a very quick acknowledgement that Bristol and her fiancé will have to grow up a lot quicker. But she is quite mature, very kind-hearted 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. We look forward to another life coming into our family.
Do you worry about her finishing high school or going to college?
SP: No. She’s a very smart girl. She’s got great grades. She’s always been a very good athlete, very plugged into school. These are less than ideal circumstances, but she is making the most of this and she will be a very, very good and loving mother. And Levi will be a very good father. And it’s going to be good. And certainly, of course, as you point out, we’re not the first.
Has this changed how you talk about sex with your other children?
SP: 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 –
Do you mean abstinence or contraception?
SP: Well, both. Ideally abstinence. But we have not been ones to say that students, should not know what preventive measures are all about. I’ve been taken aback by some criticism that mainstream media has thrown my way saying, Oh, what a hypocrite she is and she’s now learned her lesson because she’s been against sex education in the schools. And I’m like, when? Where? When have I ever said that there should be no sex education taught in our homes or even in our schools?
STAFF: One more question.
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.
SP: Awww. That is so nice to hear. But our focus is between now and November 4.
But have you been bitten by the bug? Can you go home again and just be an Alaskan?
SP: I can always go home again and just be Mom and be perfectly happy and fulfilled with the blessings that God has given us. And with a great marriage and great parents and siblings and children, I could today go home and just be Mom.
Wedding next summer, is that right?
SP: Um. Hopefully before that. But Bristol turns 18 in a few days. That’s what we wanted her to wait for: 18 and a decision on her own about how she’s going to go forward, her and Levi, at this point.
Are you disappointed that he’s dropped out of school?
SP: He’s working right now full-time, but there have been a lot of very successful, hard-working American families led by men and women who have received their GED and have figured out through home-schooling and alternative schooling how to get that high school diploma and Levi will be on that road to get his education, also. But in addition to that, they’re not going to be looking for anybody to hand them anything. They’re going to be working for provisions for their new family and I respect that Levi is out there working hard. He’s got a good job right now, working hard, ready to take care of his new child. I respect that.
STAFF: We’ve got to get going.
As a new Grandma, it’s going to be hard if you’re in Washington and the new baby is going to be so far away–
SP: We’ve always had very flexible schedules –
TP: Very flexible schedules –
SP: – and probably quite unconventional, but it’s always worked and our family and our faith and those things that we so believe in comes first and we’ve always made this all work.
TP: And Uncle Trig [Sarah’s and Todd’s 6-month-old son] needs a little buddy to play with.
SP: (sing-songy) That’s right! Trig does.
We’ve gotten so many questions from people who saw Trig at the convention and the debate and worry about his bedtime.
SP: If you notice in those evening debates he’s usually sound asleep in all of our arms and he manages to sleep and eat like any other baby needs to, on their own schedule.
TP: He’s a good Alaskan kid.
SP: He is an Alaskan kid. He’s already tough and you can already tell he enjoys being outdoors also. Man, that’s when he wakes up; he just enjoys it. He’s perfect.
And he’s got more frequent-flier miles now than–
SP: And he’s got more arms to hold him and feed him than any child could ever hope for. He’s got a lot of love.
STAFF: We’ve got to go.
Do you miss him, though, as his Mom?
SP: Well, he’s just a couple of floors above me right now, so thankfully he’s there with me. When you guys aren’t looking at me, Trig is with me. Thankfully, it all works.
Have you prepared Bristol for the sleeplessness?
SP: She has helped with Trig for these months and she helped with [7-year-old sister] Piper all those years. She’s also been a very good babysitter for nieces and nephews and cousins. She knows what it’s all about. Yeah.
Do you have a favorite childhood book you’ll be passing on to your new grandbaby?
SP: Awww. Gosh. That’s a good question. Piper and I read lots and lots of nursery rhymes, of course, and we still do. There’s a couple of really good Alaskan child books, also, about the Iditarod, the sled-dog race so, in fact a couple of those – and I’m reading one of them to Piper right now – we’ll be passing those on.
Is that a series?
SP: No, different books. Susan Butcher, she was one of the Iditarod champions. She had written a book before she died. It was a beautiful book that she and her husband, Dave Monson, wrote. It’s called Granite and it’s a good one. And a lot of the Alaskan-oriented books because our kids are Alaska native, they’re Eskimos, so it helps them understand more of their culture, the history there in Alaska.