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Originally published Saturday, September 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Palin won't concede change of heart on bridge

Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska declined to back away from her declarations about her role in quashing the "Bridge to Nowhere," insisting Friday she had helped kill the earmark project.

Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska declined to back away from her declarations about her role in quashing the "Bridge to Nowhere," insisting Friday she had helped kill the earmark project.

The bridge, to an airport on a tiny island in her state, was to get a $220 million federal allocation. It has been Exhibit A in claims by Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign that his running mate is a maverick reformer.

"I told Congress 'thanks but no thanks' on that 'Bridge to Nowhere,' " Palin said repeatedly in her stump speeches, drawing roars of approval. But numerous news organizations found that she supported the bridge until it became a national symbol of excess, and then she turned against it.

In the latest in a series of interviews with Charles Gibson of ABC News, Palin did not concede any change of heart. "We killed that earmark," she said. "We killed that project."

Her comments came after McCain sat for a grilling on ABC's "The View," where he claimed erroneously that his running mate hadn't sought federal money.

"Not as governor she didn't," McCain said.

However, Palin submitted nearly $200 million in so-called earmark requests this year.

Gibson asked Palin about her claim that she opposes earmarks, even though her request for such special spending projects for 2009 was the highest per capita figure in the nation.

She said that since she took office, the state had "drastically" reduced its efforts to secure earmarks and would continue to do so while she was governor.

Citing federal figures, Gibson said that Alaska got $231 per person in earmarks in 2008, compared with $22 a person in Illinois, home of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama.

Gibson said Alaska sought "$3.2 million for researching the genetics of harbor seals, money to study the mating habits of crabs. Isn't that exactly the kind of thing that John McCain is objecting to?"

Palin defended the request, saying it had been made in an open fashion instead of behind closed doors. "That's the abuse that we're going to stop," she said. "That's what John McCain has promised over and over for these years."

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The exchange over the bridge was one of the more contentious moments between Palin and Gibson during the segment of the interviews broadcast Friday on "World News," where she answered questions on a variety of topics, including the bridge and social and domestic issues.

Asked repeatedly to name three things she would change about the Bush administration's economic policies, she eventually said reduce taxes, control spending and reform the oversight of various agencies.

She also described some areas where she differs from McCain, including her belief that abortions should be banned even in cases of rape and incest. She also said she opposes embryonic-stem-cell research, even though the campaign released a radio ad Friday saying a McCain administration would support stem-cell research.

Palin wouldn't say whether she believed homosexuality was an orientation or a choice. "I'm not one to judge," she said.

Her history with earmarks has drawn some of the closest scrutiny in the past two weeks.

As mayor of Wasilla, Palin hired a lobbyist to help the town secure millions of dollars in federal money. And while campaigning for governor, she expressed support for the bridge to the tiny Alaskan island of Gravina, where just a few dozen people live, although Ketchikan's airport is also there.

Toward the end of the interview, Palin suggested Obama might have made a mistake in not picking Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as his running mate.

"I think he's regretting not picking her now," she said. "What, what determination, and grit, and even grace through some tough shots that were fired her way, she handled those well."

Compiled from The New York Times, The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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