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Behind Sarah Palin, a low-profile but high-impact aide

COLUMN ONE

Rebecca Mansour calls herself boring; her missives, however, are anything but dull.

March 17, 2011|Robin Abcarian

Sarah Palin wanted to meet Rebecca Mansour.

It was the summer of 2009 and the former Alaska governor was in Del Mar, Calif., working on her book "Going Rogue." Earlier that year, Mansour had co-founded a website that offered detailed defenses of Palin's record and acidic attacks on her critics.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, March 18, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 2 inches; 86 words Type of Material: Correction
Palin aide: An article in the March 17 Section A about Rebecca Mansour, an aide to Sarah Palin, said she grew up in Madison Heights, Mich. She grew up in Royal Oak, Mich., but attended high school in Madison Heights. It also said she was working as a Harvard fundraiser when she founded Conservatives4Palin in 2009, but Mansour says she had left the Harvard job earlier. In addition, Mansour says she was quoting Palin when she called Politico's staff "puppy-kicking chain smokers" and "anti-dentite porn producers."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, March 29, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Palin aide: An article in the March 17 Section A about Rebecca Mansour, a key aide to Sarah Palin, referred to Claire Crabtree as a former professor at University of Detroit Mercy. Crabtree, Mansour's former professor, still teaches there.

Palin was impressed.

The pair hit it off. Mansour helped Palin with research on her score-settling bestseller, and a few months later, Palin offered Mansour a job with SarahPAC, Palin's political operation. She would write speeches and help Palin craft messages that would bypass the traditional media (the "lamestream media" in Palinspeak) and target Palin's Facebook fans and Twitter followers, which now number 2.7 million and 428,000, respectively.

As Palin considers whether to run for president in 2012, Mansour, 36, has become part of the inner circle that includes Palin's husband, Todd; her Anchorage-based attorney, Thomas Van Flein; her Washington-based treasurer, Tim Crawford; and a newly hired chief of staff, Michael Glassner.

Mansour is a "jack-of-all-trades" with "an important role ... not only from a communications standpoint, but a policy standpoint," said a Palin aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not have Palin's permission to be interviewed. (Palin did not respond to requests for comment.)

But unlike other key Palin players, Mansour is neither a rough-hewn Alaskan nor a seasoned Washington operative. She is a political neophyte, a Republican daughter of Democrat-friendly Detroit, a onetime film student who lives in Hollywood, and a longtime fundraiser for Harvard University, an institution known for churning out the very "elites" so often derided by Palin.

The erudite Mansour, who calls herself a member of "the great unwashed," doesn't mind sounding elite; her vocabulary includes real words like "hebetudinous" (mentally lethargic) and made-up ones like "anti-dentite" (a dentist hater, from "Seinfeld"). She loves Victorian poetry, William Faulkner and David Lean films. She is especially fond of "Why I Am a Liberal," Robert Browning's 1886 sonnet on liberty.

In an organization that is opaque, if not secretive, Mansour's profile has remained especially low. News stories have described her as an "all-purpose advisor," Palin's "enforcer," her "secret asset." Vanity Fair said Mansour was "Palin's most unconventional hire."

Mansour declined half a dozen requests to meet for this story. Her reticence, said the Palin aide, "is a sign that she is loyal and that she is focused on doing her job and not on being in the public eye. That's one of her greatest strengths: her total lack of ambition to be the story itself."

"I cannot stress enough," Mansour said by phone, "I am the most boring individual."

She did answer a few questions about her background and corrected some mistakes that have appeared in print.

On Twitter, as @RAMansour, she is voluble.

In brief missives, she strokes fans and wages war on Palin's critics. Last year when Politico published anonymously sourced stories critical of Palin, Mansour described its staff as "puppy-kicking chain smokers" and "anti-dentite porn producers."

Recently, she accused Joe McGinniss, who moved next door to the Palins while researching a book, of "cyber stalking" her when he responded to one of her tweets. ("Praying for the Christians in the Middle East," she wrote on Feb. 11. "Only the Christians?" McGinniss replied.)

She also reveals personal information via Twitter: She agonized over a new laptop, has a new BlackBerry Torch, loves Celtic and folk music and listens to NPR "for the music." She is "insanely frugal." She often gets extra scrutiny at airports because of her Lebanese surname, but doesn't mind.

Her interview venue of choice is the podcast of Palin-friendly host Tammy Bruce, a former head of the National Organization for Women's L.A. chapter, who bills herself as an independent conservative.

The day Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was shot, Mansour appeared on Bruce's podcast to rebut accusations that Palin contributed to a vitriolic political atmosphere with a map showing cross hairs on congressional districts. "We never, ever intended it to be gun sights," Mansour said. "It was simply cross hairs like you'd see on maps." (In a tweet two months earlier, however, Palin had called the symbol a " 'bullseye' icon used 2 target" incumbents who supported healthcare reform.)

In October, Mansour denounced a Vanity Fair article that portrayed Palin as erratic, vindictive and entitled. "Tammy, I just gotta say, I am a no-BS kind of gal," Mansour said. "I literally work for a woman who tells us, 'Make sure you don't make any demands for me.' "

Last month, Mansour was in Santa Barbara, where Palin spoke at a fundraiser for a Republican youth group. Afterward, looking for someone to validate her parking ticket, Mansour mistook a reporter for an event volunteer. "Man!" she said in dismay. "I walked right into that."

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