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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Republican Governor Linda Lingle, the first Jewish chief executive of the Aloha State, knows something about being the woman governor of a state which is isolated, relatively new and, in the eyes of many Americans, almost mythical in nature.

So when she comes to the defense of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin - declaring that Palin has more on-the-job experience than Barack Obama - Lingle, like the Republican vice-presidential candidate a former mayor of a small community, speaks with unique authority.

"As another woman Republican Governor, we know each other very well, and I can tell people in America and all over the world, that she is the unique combination of toughness and grace," says Lingle, in St. Paul to attend the Republican National Convention, which has been put on hold pending the outcome of Hurrican Gustav in the Gulf Coast.

She acknowledges that that many dismiss John McCain's running mate as "only a mayor of a small town" and "governor of a distant state." However, counters the former mayor of the island county of Maui, "the Democrats' presidential candidate has zero experience. He's never led any city, never led any state. So our vice-presidential candidate has more experience than their presidential candidate has."

Palin "is a proven leader on local level as well as the state level, she's had a balanced budget, she's had to deal with every issue from the environment to energy and healthcare to education and public safety, and she's done it in a way that every governor does, which is: you make the final decision for which you'll be accountable.

"It's not like being in Congress, where no one might know you're responsible," she told Haaretz. "When you're a governor you're the one to make a decision. It's a great, great preparation for a job such as vice president."

Lingle says she has never discussed Israel-related issues with Palin. "But Senator McCain's commitment to Israel is strong and well-known, and I assure your readers that he would not put someone on that ticket who did not have the same feelings. Certainly he has discussed those issues. Government Palin is a very religious person, and the religious Christians are the greatest supporters of Israel."

According to Lingle, the Republican Party is likely to attract growing numbers of Jewish voters because "the Republicans have a much stronger position on Israel than the Democrats, and that's why I think more people will be seen on the Republican side.

"It takes time, but when people start really looking for issues, and not on the traditional family party affiliation, I think Republicans have a good chance at the Jewish community."

One factor, she continues, has been President George Bush's "unwavering support for Israel, I think that made a big difference, but also I think being fiscally conservative makes a difference, and a focus on education makes a difference for the Jewish community."

Like the majority of U.S. Jews of her generation, Lingle, 55, comes from a family of Democrats. "When I came to run for office in my state of Hawaii, where Democrats have [held] power for decades, I felt there were ethical questions about them, and that I couldn't be part of them. I ran as a Republican, and I got elected."

Asked about the recent revelation that Palin's 17-year-old daughter is pregnant, Lingle remarks, "It's one of the issues that face families all over America and all over the world. Families have tough things happen to them, and what you need to judge people by, is how they deal with those tough situations occurring to them.

"That can happen to anyone, and they decided to stick around as family. And because I know Sarah and Todd Palin, I know that they will do the right thing for their family, as it should be. Senator Obama, to his credit, said today that it should not be a part of a political campaign, and I admire him for saying that."

Although early polls have not indicated that women voters have gravitated to the McCain ticket in the wake of Palin's nomination, Lingle says that the more that Americans get to know Sarah Palin, "the more they'll get excited about her."

Calling the Alaska governor a reformer, and noting that Palin has taken on her own party on occasion, Lingle says that "What she and John McCain have in common is that they would do what's right for their country, even if it hurts them politically. They've done it throughout their careers."

Regardless of party affiliation, "her nomination gives inspiration to the women of America. Women all across the country are excited about this. Since the announcement was made, money has been coming in so strongly for this ticket, and volunteers who have never been involved are coming, and they are so excited by her story, by her experience and her vision for America."

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