Republican National Convention

INSIDE STORY: Meet Todd Palin, Alaska's 'First Dude'

09/04/2008 at 06:20 PM EDT

INSIDE STORY: Meet Todd Palin, Alaska's 'First Dude'
Todd Palin
TANNEN MAURY/EPA
At Tailgaters sports bar in Wasilla, Alaska, the crowd cheered when the six televisions showed Gov. Sarah Palin at the GOP Convention on Wednesday night – and beamed with pride when the cameras focused on her husband, Todd.

"That," said bar patron Martin Chapoton, "is our 'First Dude.' "

Alaskans embrace Todd Palin as one of their own: a tough, blue-collar outdoorsman who calloused his hands with two decades of hard work at the North Slope oil fields and the Bristol Bay commercial salmon fishery – and who has earned a reputation for steely nerves and endurance as a championship snowmobile racer.

"I have to trust my life in his hands, and I do," his racing partner Scott Davis told the Associated Press last year. "A lot of teams certainly don't have fun when they're doing it, and I like to think Todd and I do."

Palin, who turns 44 on Saturday, put his toughness to a test last February when he crashed his snowmobile during a race and went flying 70 feet. The smashup, caused when he hit a barrel lodged in the snow, "sent a minor tremor across the state," the Anchorage Daily News reported at the time, citing his role as the husband of the state's new governor.

But for Palin, it was just a part of racing. Davis loaded him onto the back of Davis's snowmobile and drove him to the clinic, where he was found to have suffered nasty bruises. Palin then returned to the grueling 2,000-mile Tesoro Iron Dog race.

Shoved into the Spotlight

Todd Palin's latest challenge, of course, began just days ago when Sarah, 44, became the surprise choice of GOP vice presidential candidate with John McCain – thrusting her, and Todd, into the spotlight.

INSIDE STORY: Meet Todd Palin, Alaska's 'First Dude'| Republican National Convention

Todd and Sarah Palin, at the Iron Dog snowmobile race

Al Grillo / AP

Born of Eskimo ancestry, Todd Palin met Sarah in high school, and they had five children together, including a baby born in April with Down syndrome and a 17-year-old daughter who is pregnant with her boyfriend's child.

Todd Palin made his living up to last year as an hourly – but well-paid – worker for BP, a London-based oil giant, earning more than $100,000 a year. He left in March 2007, he said, to work part-time for his union, the United Steelworkers Local 4959, to make more time for his family after Sarah was elected governor.

"I always see him around town with his kids taking care of business," says family friend Warren McCorkell. "He gets asked about how he feels about people fawning over his wife and he shrugs his shoulders and says, 'She's being Sarah and I'm being Mr. Mom.' "

And a Union Man

In her speech before the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night, Sarah Palin said that her husband "is a story all by himself."

"He's a lifelong commercial fisherman and a production operator from the oil fields of Alaska's North Slope and a proud member of the United Steelworkers union, and Todd is now a world-champion snow-machine racer," she said to thunderous applause. "Throw in his Yupik Eskimo ancestry, and it all makes for a quite a package. And we met in high school, and two decades and five children later, he's still my guy."

Additional reporting by LORENZO BENET

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