- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 26, 2009

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, possibly the hottest property ailing Republicans can claim at this moment, on Sunday steps down from office in search of - well, that’s the question.

Will the one-time vice presidential candidate who sparked a brief uptick for the GOP ticket ultimately defeated by Barack Obama become a Rush Limbaugh-like idol for Sarah-heads in cyberland? Campaigner/ fundraiser-in-chief for the fatigued GOP? The voice and face of the pro-life movement? A presidential contender in 2012? All of the above?

With polls showing that 70 percent of Republicans give her a thumbs-up, legions of experienced Republican politicians and conservative leaders are eager to offer Mrs. Palin their best advice - even if in some case it carries a bit of a sting.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a possible competitor for the Republican nomination in 2012, says Mrs. Palin should cobble together and trumpet a series of issues and grow her network of supporters.

Mr. Gingrich said she should “become a national leader on the energy issue, where she has real expertise as an Alaskan.” He recommends she “campaign wherever asked for Republican candidates,” “speak to conservative groups” and “become a leading right-to-life activist.”

Mr. Gingrich said that agenda will make her “a formidable contender in 2012.”

Maybe.

She still will have to overcome the stigma of quitting Alaska’s highest office more than a year before her term ends.

Plagued by endless and - as even some Democrats admit - mostly frivolous ethics complaints filed by Democrats and even some Republicans, Mrs. Palin says she is leaving office to pursue her future unleashed from the sticky tentacles of Alaska’s rules.

Earlier this month, Mrs. Palin told The Washington Times she will get right back into the fray and campaign for Republicans - as well as Democrats and independents- who share her values. No prominent Democrat so far has piped up and sought her help.

Mrs. Palin also said ethics rules forbade her from discussing, while still governor, whether she has signed a TV contract or how much she is getting paid for a book she has contracted to write.

“She will start a national tour,” said Ralph Seekins, an Alaska member of the Republican National Committee. “So many folks are looking for someone who can share their stories, who aren’t Harvard or Yale graduates but still have leadership qualities.”

Palin chum and Alaska RNC member Debbie Joslin jumped in to add, “The people of America love her. She is in a position to do mostly anything she wants.”

Actually when the people of America identify themselves as Democrats in polls, they really don’t like her - by big majorities. Independents are mixed when it comes to what some Alaska Republicans have taken to calling the phenomenon of “Sarah worship.”

Some friends and former friends of hers remain unimpressed, for example, with the depth of her knowledge of conservative philosophy or current policy issues.

“I can’t imagine her preparing for a daily talk show or doing what Limbaugh does,” said Randy Ruedrich, Alaska GOP chairman and a former mentor to Mrs. Palin. “She’d be better doing a modified stump routine, appearing at places where people are dying to hear her and see her, where she has a chance to be reasonably to highly successful.”

Others in Alaska and in the Lower 48 states say that for the woman who stole the presidential campaign show from her running mate, Arizona Sen. John McCain, last year, the sky’s the limit - and maybe not even the sky.

“She has two gigantic assets - charisma in a charisma-challenged party and an ability to connect with working-class voters we haven’t seen since perhaps Ronald Reagan,” said American Values President Gary Bauer. “We Republicans have lost them and lost highly educated voters. We have to decide which way we want to go. We can have more success on values - not just abortion, but the larger cultural issues that concern what we used to call ‘Reagan Democrats.’ They could give us a governing majority again.”

Mrs. Palin brought out big crowds at good-bye picnics in her hometown of Wasilla, 40 miles north of Anchorage, on Friday, and in Anchorage on Saturday.

But do crowds and readers of her Twitter serve as an indicator of her viability for a presidential bid?

Pollster John Zogby’s answer is layered and starts with the flat statement that Democrats as well as fellow Republicans underestimate her at their own peril.

“If ‘viable’ means being a colorful, focused, even glorious campaigner for conservative and family values, she will indeed be a viable candidate for the top of the GOP ticket. If ‘viable’ means actually winning, she’s still a long shot at best. But that’s true for anyone chasing the presidency.”

Palin skeptics among the GOP’s “professional political classes” aren’t shy about their doubts.

“She could make a ton of money and reinforce her conservative base by being paired as a TV commentator with MSNBC liberal Keith Olbermann,” joked veteran GOP pollster Neil Newhouse said. “More seriously, if she enters the 2012 campaign with the level of negatives she has today, she would stand little realistic chance of beating Obama.”

One “old bull” of the philosophical right says the test for viability is willingness to buckle down to the hard work of learning where the rooms are in the house that Ronald Reagan built for modern conservatism.

“If she wants a political future, she needs to assemble a kitchen Cabinet of wise conservatives who can give her sound advice that she seems to be lacking since last November’s election,” said conservative movement icon Richard Viguerie.

“Sometime sooner than later, she should narrow her interest and focus on an issue she is passionate about and begin to reintroduce herself to Americans,” Mr. Viguerie said. “She needs to find a hole in the public policy arena that’s not being occupied and then position herself as ‘owning’ that issue and work on her brand.”

That “hole” could be leader of the anti-abortion movement in the era of a developing Obama Supreme Court.

“There is no question that a strong, articulate pro-life woman at the forefront of the pro-life movement can do more to move us forward than any single advocate or event in the past,” Jane Abraham, general chairman of the Susan B. Anthony List, said in an e-mail response to The Times. “Sarah Palin is that woman.”


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