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Why Sarah Why?
In a move that came way out of left field, Sarah Palin announced that not only would she not seek re-election as Governor of Alaska, she is not going to fill out her current term and will resign effective at the end of the month. To make such a huge announcement during the low media holiday weekend has led every pundit to either one of two conclusions - she's either afraid of a late-breaking scandal or she's going full bore into challenging Obama in 2012. There are arguments to be made on both sides. There's just one problem - both sides are completely and totally wrong about what Sarah's doing. Read on for the real story - remember you saw it here first folks.

Let me just start by acknowledging that the chance Sarah Palin is worried about scandal is not outside the realm of possibility and I can't pretend to know what all is going on up there. When she was announced as McCain's running-mate, she sent a panic throughout Obama strategists. Not just because they knew she'd be packaged as Ronald Reagan with a hot school teacher look that had the chance to invigorate the conservative base. It was the wildcard factor that she presented - its what they didn't know. There's a lot of upside with the unknown commodity and that is the scariest thing to combat. In response they sent armies of lawyers and investigators up to Alaska to dig up dirt. Those investigators produced several ethics complaints and of course the much publicized family issues with her daughter's pregnancy. She claims she's defeated all of those accusations and has also done a good job of garnering sympathy from the general public in response to attacks on her family (she clearly won the Letterman fiasco).

Could there be something else they were just waiting to drop? As a general rule in politics regarding scandal - never say never. But I kinda doubt it at this point - it would have come out already. There's all sorts of elaborate bluffs that go on in this regard - its always rumored that somebody has something on someone else. Whether that's true or not is irrelevant for initial mudslinging. And giving the media that hates her the chance to paint her as someone who is quitting on her state on the 4th of July under scandal, amidst all the other Republican scandals of late, would just be too much. And resigning won't stop the investigators, it will just embolden them to look even harder. It would literally be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. There's a saying in the media - "If you don't run, we won't chase". Trying to run away from a potential mess is not a smart thing to do if the goal is a 2012 presidential run. Voters forgive alot but never hypocrisy or fleeing.

Besides, being the Republican nominee in 2012 is going to be a burden not a reward. It is just incredibly difficult to try to unseat a sitting President if he hasn't lost the base. Obama will NOT lose his powerbase by 2012, he's doing too much legislatively on their hotbutton issues. While he was and is due for a natural drop off in popularity, its not enough to think he's vulnerable in 2012. Its only when a president turns on his base, ala George HW Bush with his "read my lips" line, only to go back on that fundamental promise, that opens the door for Bill Clinton in 1992. George W. Bush was still popular with his national security base in 2004, which led Hillary Clinton to skip challenging him and sent John Kerry out instead. Running a losing race in 2012 would ruin Palin. Losing a general election makes the Party Power brokers permanently label you as someone who "can't close the deal", making sure you can't raise enough funds and support. Palin would be wise to let Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty or Bobby Jindal fall on that grenade, and postpone her own ambitions until 2016 - and she'll still be a relatively young 53 years old at that point.

So why make the announcement now? I say - why not? She knows she doesn't want another term as Alaska's governor and this way she doesn't have to eat the criticisms that come along with being a "lame duck". Besides, in order for her to make the strong argument against Obama's massive spending programs, she can't be seen as someone who took the money. Remember, most of the stimulus bill spending doesn't really go into effect until 2010. And Palin would not have had the option of refusing those funds to make a principled stand. Several state Supreme Court rulings forced the hands of Republican governors like Rick Barnes of Texas and Bobby Jinal of Louisiana to take the funds mandated by the federal government.

Palin is about to launch a book tour across America. This will allow her to do a better job of marketing herself apart from the image of the folksy country gal plucked out of obscurity by McCain. This will theoretically raise her profile and allow her to make quite a bit of bank along the way. Going on so-called "listening tours" will help diminish the criticisms that she is out of touch and an isolated small time politician who doesn't understand the complexities of the country as a whole. Very Regean-esque.

Of course perception is one thing, genuine relevant experience is another. This is where Palin's personal goals and the most pressing need of the Republican party intersect. She needs concrete large scale economic and foreign policy experience. The Republicans need to do whatever it takes to remove the Democrats 60 seat majority to block filibusters in the 2010 midterm elections. Without this filibuster power the controlling party can dominate on all issues, like it appears the Democrats may be able to do this summer on "cap and trade" and healthcare. Getting some level of power back in the Senate has to be job #1 in 2010.

So Palin will run for a Senate seat in Alaska in 2010 right? Well, possibly. There is Lisa Murkowski's seat thats up for election. Murkowski is just filling ousted scandal-plagued Senator Ted Steven's term, so she's hardly a proven campaign force. And there may even be some emotion involved in going after that seat after Murkowski issued some hasty remarks yesterday about Palin "quitting" on Alaska. But being a Senator from Alaska is not exactly a springboard to higher power, including the presidency, which I maintain is her ultimate goal. Although each state has an equal number of Senators (two) and they each get one vote, they do not wield equal power. There's all sorts of considerations that go into getting assignment to or chairing committees that can hold up legislation and federal nominees from ever getting voted on. Its not an exact measure, but the more power your state has economically and by population tends to give Senators from those states more power relative to smaller states. Alaskan Senators can pretty much expect to be rank and file members who can only aspire to bring back as much pork barrel spending as possible. That is hardly the image she wants to cultivate and it can just get you into a lot of trouble, ala the aforementioned Stevens.

So what does she do? I think she moves down to the lower 48 and begins a 2010 Senate campaign in a more nationally relevant state in the primaries next Spring. It can be done on short notice and in a state she's not previously lived in - just look at how Hillary took the New York seat having little history of residence in the state. The key is to find a state that has a seat up for election and in a powerful state with a vulnerable Democrat incumbent or a retiring Republican Senator. Obviously the Republican party would prefer she choose to try to unseat a Democrat, but getting her starpower in the mix might be worth just swapping out another Republican if need be. If the goal is the equivolent of the Gingrich led Conservative Revolution in the midterm of Bill Clinton's first term, you need a face to lead.

Based on very quick research, I've identified a couple of possibilities. The more mundane way to go would be to just seek to win the Republican primary to replace a retired Republican like Mel Martinez of Florida or George Voinovich of Ohio. Those are both large and powerful "swing" states, having gone for George W and then for Obama. Having filled either of those seats would be a major feather in her cap and would be considered a pretty low risk of losing if a proper campaign structure could be implemented in time.

Another thing to consider is that Arlen Spector's seat is up for election in 2010. Earlier this year Spector very famously switched parties from Republican to Democrat. His spin on the matter was that the Republican party was getting too conservative. The much more basic and accurate reason was that he was afraid he would lose the Republican primary due to his voting record being way too liberal for Pennsylvania Repubicans. The Democrats offered to protect him by letting him switch and promising to not let any other candidates challenge him in the Dem Primary. They'd then supply him with lots of campaign resources in the general election over whatever challenger the juiced up Republicans would throw at him. Well if Sarah Palin enters that state and walks through the REpublican primary, that promise to Spector may be all for naught if Sarah-mania could overpower their efforts. How juicy.

But if you just need something a little more spicy (ridiculously improbable but soooo compelling if it happened), she could challenge John McCain in Arizona as his seat is up. Another seat coming up is Roland Burris' seat here in Illinois. You know the vacated seat from Obama that may or may not have been bought by Burris from our beloved Blago? Logistically neither of those would even be attempted, but talk about a wet dream either way for media outlets. And I'm sure there's several other reasonable options that a more researched observer could point out since there's 3 other retiring Republicans and 18 total Democrat seats up. But where's the fun in that?

Either way, Palin could do something very rare. Mid-term elections, by their nature, generate less interest than elections with a Presidential race. She could provide a lot of sizzle and position herself as the star of the 2010 midterms. That would allow her to gain a full term in the Senate before waiting out Obama's second term. By that time there would almost certainly be alot of Democrat fatigue with casual voters. If all goes well and she makes the right choices, she could easily become our first female President in 2016.



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