Palin's Political Future Unclear

06 July 2009

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's decision to step down before the end of her term caught the political world by surprise, and has fueled questions and speculation about her political future. Palin was Republican John McCain's vice presidential running mate in last year's presidential election and is seen by many Republicans as a potential candidate in 2012.

Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin speaks during a rally in Ohio, 29 Sep 2008
Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin speaks during a rally in Ohio in 2008
Governor Palin was not expected to seek re-election in Alaska in 2010. But what caught most people by surprise was her decision to step down later this month without completing a full four-year term as governor.

"Productive, fulfilled people determine where to put their efforts, choosing to wisely utilize precious time to build up. And there is such a need to build up and fight for our state and our country, and I choose to fight for it," Palin said.

In her resignation announcement, Palin cited several reasons including recent political attacks on her family and the high financial cost of ethics investigations.

Palin also mentioned a desire not to serve out her term as what is known as a lame duck, a politician with fading political influence because they either will not or cannot seek another term in office.

Fellow Republicans were caught by surprise, including former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Huckabee told Fox News Sunday that he worries some voters may see Palin as a quitter.

"I'm a Sarah Palin fan. I like her personally. I like her points of view.  I think she is right on the issues. The challenge that she is going to have is that there will be people who say, look, if they chase you out of this, it won't get any easier for you at other levels of the [political] stage," Huckabee said.

Appearing on the same program was Karl Rove, the top political adviser to former President George W. Bush. Rove said he was perplexed by Palin's decision to step down.

"The effective strategies in politics are ones that are so clear and obvious that people can grasp it. It is not clear what her strategy here is but exiting the governorship two and a half years through the term and putting herself on a national stage that she may not yet be prepared to operate in [...]," Rove said.

Political analysts say Palin's unexpected decision has raised questions about her political future and reopened a debate from last year's presidential campaign about whether or not she is ready for national office.

John Fortier is a political expert at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

"I think it is only going to reinforce some problems that critics of her saw, as her being not ready for the job or impulsive or not appealing enough to a wide base of America who expects her to pursue a traditional course," said Fortier.

Palin has engaged critics and even comedians in recent months, especially those who in her view have targeted her family. Many Palin supporters say they understand her desire to step away from the national political limelight for a while.

But Fortier says she still could position herself for a presidential run in 2012.

"I take her at her word that in some ways she is a little bit tired of the criticism, and the unfair criticism in some cases, and that she has some personal things in her life she needs to attend to. But I think there is some sense that she also wants to be able to focus on national issues," Fortier said.

Other analysts say Palin's decision to quit now may give her time to rebuild her image with the public, an image that took a battering during last year's presidential campaign.

Gerson Moreno-Raino is a political expert at Regent University, a Christian university in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

"She has been heavily criticized by both the left and the right, Republicans and Democrats, and this may be a way for her recapture her lost image and really be in control of her image and her message, which is very important," Moreno-Raino said.

But, he continued, Palin may have some political fences to mend with even some of her most loyal supporters who were disappointed with her decision to step down as governor with 18 months left to go in her term.

"I think there are people that at a gut level are loyal to Sarah Palin.  And maybe some will argue that she can effect a lot of change, but the majority of these individuals, I think, are concerned about how she is going to be able to do this given the fact that in some ways she has or can be perceived as having quit," Moreno-Raino said.

Although Palin remains a polarizing figure in national opinion polls, she continues to draw strong support from conservative Republicans, especially evangelical Christians.