On July 3rd 2009 Sarah Palin declared her political independence from out current politics as usual mess. She did so by resigning from being governor of Alaska rather than waiting till her term expires in 2010. Her surprise resignation has led to speculation of an impending scandal or a mark of erratic lack of endurance for public life. Many, believes her resignation regardless of her reasons signifies the end of her political career. I am not among them.
On first response I too thought this was a bad political move on her part. That she would have been better off finishing out her term in 2010 and subsequently run in 2012, assuming she retains an interest in politics. This is indeed the conventional wisdom. But you just don’t go against conventional wisdom to be contrarian. What could possibly be so urgent that she could not wait until 2010?
Lets look first at what she had to gain by finishing her term. She would have established a track record of executive leadership experience. She then would have had a year plus to then pre-campaign in the lower 48 states. All along she could have continued to increase her fund of knowledge in areas she is weak in (foreign relation and economics) as well as strengthen and refine her political stance regarding energy independence, small government, and strong national defense. She would have remained one of the leading contender going into the Republican primaries.
I stopped at this point trying to figure out what would be so great for Sarah Palin to do the politics as usual pathway to nomination. The primaries are creaky process that completely ignore must win states, in many places open to democrats and independents to manipulate the nomination process, and encourages candidates to yield to the front runner. And for Republicans in particular it is a process that somehow manages to nominate the next in line, like Dole and McCain. This implies that the Republican Poobahs have a lot to say in the nomination. The Democrat nomination process in 08 was certainly suspect for manipulation to nominate Obama over Hillary.
Even if Sarah decides to go through this nomination process, she would be challenging the Republican Washington DC Inside the Beltway types. Without broad base political support, she runs the risk of being marginalized and perhaps even passed over. Being stuck in Alaska until the end of 2010 will certainly limit her ability to campaign for other politicians. And politicians owe no debts until they get elected. There are no significant races in 2011. She needs to be able to campaign in the lower 48 starting Spring of 2010 in order to build political debts for 2012.
She may be also contemplating campaigning for local officials running for state offices. I expect her to have significant appeals to local communities and candidates. Why would she do this? Because a few states will be expected to gain congressional seats based on the 2010 census, and it will be the state legislatures that will draw congressional district maps for the 2012 elections. Even states that are expected to lose seats could be impacted by her campaigning for local officials to minimize loss of conservative congressional seats.
Note that Palin has stated she will campaign for conservatives, not just republicans. This is exceedingly smart for three reasons. Firstly, there has been a growing disparity between the national Republican party and the conservative voters. This is likely a result of Republican Poobahs living too long inside the DC beltway. Secondly, if she does win the Republican nomination, she will need the support of conservative Democrats in the general election. Thirdly, if she can help conservative democrats raise money, they might become less beholden to the Democrat National Committee.
And she can help campaign against Obama’s awful economic policies as a way to initiate relationships with fiscal conservative Democrats and Republicans. None of her options to build a lower 48 political base and influence can be achieved as a Governor of Alaska.