By Betsy Rothstein - 10/06/08 05:39 PM EDT
Yleem Sarmiento de Poblete has been observing herself from new angles these days. She does a chin turn to the left, then to the right. Every way she turns, she can’t escape a simple truth: She is the Capitol Hill twin of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R).
Or is she “Saturday Night Live’s” Tina Fey?
Even Poblete, the Republican staff director to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has a hard time keeping her twin status straight. Not a day passes when someone doesn’t do a double-take and mistake her for Palin.
The Olsen twins they are not. But startlingly similar they are. Office mates are in an uproar over it. Even Poblete sees the resemblance with the exception of her chin, which she sees as more pointy than Palin’s square jawline. “At certain angles, yeah,” she said. “The hair, the glasses, we’re both brunette and [have] certain expressions.”
But she won’t be using the “lipstick, pit bull” line anytime soon. “I don’t wear much lipstick,” Poblete said, laughing.
The scene inside Poblete’s Rayburn basement office last week bordered on the absurd, as she posed for pictures as Palin’s twin as Palin’s voice coincidentally blared on Fox News from a miniature TV in the corner.
Her realization of a doppelganger first began last month in St. Paul, Minn., at the Republican National Convention, just after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) selected Palin as his vice president. Four young Republican types stopped Poblete on the convention hall floor and asked her to pose for pictures.
“Oh, no, no, no, no, no, I’m not Palin,” she said.
But one of the young Republicans responded, “Oh, but Governor, I’m such a fan!”
Soon, people on the streets of St. Paul began approaching and asking her to pose for pictures. Much to her surprise, some fans didn’t care that she was not Palin and wanted pictures with her anyway.
“But you do realize I’m not her,” she’d tell them.
The aide says she became a human cardboard cutout for Palin and people wanted to take pictures with her.
Unfortunately, she has never actually met Palin, but hopes to someday.
Back in Washington, her twin status magnified.
One day recently she was at the salad bar of the Rayburn Cafeteria when she heard a member of the work staff say, “Oh my god, it’s her.”
“Do you know you look like the governor?” he said.
Poblete insists she’s not trying to look like Palin. She didn’t start to dress or wear her hair and glasses like Palin after Palin became the running mate — she had done so all along. Her hair is long and dark brown and she piles it in a twist. Her figure is slim and she prefers conservative attire — today she wears a black pantsuit with a light pink shell underneath. Her glasses are clear, thinner on the sides than Palin’s Japanese designer Kawasaki frames, but close enough.
There are other similarities. Poblete is pro-life and she’s a conservative woman. She works for a strong Republican woman from Florida, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Ros-Lehtinen has been amused by it, and has had lawmakers tease her, saying on the House floor, “I didn’t know you had Gov. Palin visiting!” or “How come you didn’t tell us you had Gov. Palin on your staff?”
But Poblete does part ways from Palin. She was born far away from Palin’s Wasilla, Alaska, in Miami, Fla. “I don’t think I could survive in Alaska,” she says. And she won’t shoot wolves from a helicopter, though she has been known to visit the firing range.
She takes exception to the TV portrayals of Palin as dumb (HBO talk show host Bill Maher has called her a “bimbo”). Poblete says she knew of the Alaskan governor well before she was McCain’s running mate and always admired her.
“I think she’s underestimated,” she says. “I don’t particularly appreciate the way she has been treated. It makes me cringe. I try not to ever let anything really turn to anger.”
To comedians like Maher and Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart she says, “Those who can’t, ridicule those who aspire to public office.”
When Fey began imitating Palin, pairing her with a fake Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Poblete found the skit funny. But the following show depicting her with CBS’s Katie Couric did not amuse her.
“The interpretation was that these two women who are trailblazers are dumb,” she said.
Poblete, who has worked on Capitol Hill for more than a decade, says she believes the world is much harsher on women in politics, but conservative women take the brunt of it. She first came to Washington in 1992 for school and to work for former President George H.W. Bush in the White House counsel’s office. She came to Capitol Hill in 1995 where she began working for Ros-Lehtinen on the then-International Relations Committee’s Africa subcommittee.
She won’t say there is a “gotcha media,” as Palin insists, but she will say this: “Let’s just say, if you’re a woman but you don’t embrace what is presented by the mass media as the majority position, then the fallback position is you’re dumb.”
Poblete says that people wrongly assume that all working women are pro-choice. “As a Hispanic woman, I am going to have certain views on social issues and certain views on women’s issues, women’s rights.”
She sees the world differently from that of a traditional woman. “Growing up in Miami, you don’t think along gender or racial lines because you’re fully integrated into the tapestry of that society,” she said.
Her view, like Palin’s, is conservative all the way.
“I believe in an agenda that is good for all, not just for women,” she says.