Politics & Policy

Sarah Palin’s Rough Sled to the Senate

An Alaska Senate run wouldn’t be easy.

Sarah Palin underexposed?

It’s hard to imagine. But in Alaska, where she is considering a Senate run, she might be. The former governor “has no profile in Alaska. She’s not active,” says a Republican consultant familiar with Alaska politics. “She’s doing her own thing personally. She’s not giving speeches and doing Republican-women events and fundraisers and helping people. She’s just very much under the radar.”

That kind of invisibility may have prompted her potential opponent, Democrat Mark Begich, to snarkily remark to Politico yesterday, “I don’t know if she’s a resident. She’s been away from Alaska a lot.”

According to political insiders in the Last Frontier, the former governor and Republican vice-presidential nominee faces numerous hurdles should she decide to jump into the race. Two prominent Republicans have already announced they’re running, and Begich is a popular incumbent.

In Alaska, Palin just doesn’t enjoy the same popularity she once did. A February Public Policy Polling poll showed Palin at 59 percent disapproval and a mere 34 percent approval rate among Alaska voters. That same poll found that Begich would beat Palin by 16 points in a heads-up race. Republican internal polls this spring found similar favorable/unfavorable numbers among Republican voters in the state. Some polls, however, paint a rosier picture for Palin: Alaska GOP pollster Marc Hellenthal found that she had a 65 percent favorable rating in a recent poll of state GOP-primary voters. But even Hellenthal’s poll found that Palin would have a huge hurdle to overcome in the general election: Among Alaska voters overall, her unfavorable rating is 53 percent.

“Right now, Begich is looking very, very good,” Hellenthal says. “If you and I were betting, we’d be betting on Begich.”

Nor is it clear Palin could generate much support on the national front. When contacted, the Club for Growth had no comment on a potential Palin senate bid, and Crossroads had nothing to say either. Of the conservative groups I called, only Senate Conservatives Fund executive director Matt Hoskins was openly enthusiastic about a Palin run, e-mailing, “Sarah Palin would make a great senator. She’s not afraid to take on liberals and she’s willing to buck the establishment in her own party. If she runs, we will support her. No question.”

One issue driving Palin to seriously consider the race may be her now-cold relations with Joe Miller, whom she endorsed in the 2010 Republican senate primary. “The Palin-Miller relationship is no more,” says a GOP consultant familiar with Alaska. “She was very helpful to him in the primary. Once he won the primary, he thought he was a senator and he kind of said ‘thanks, but no thanks’” to her involvement in the general election.

“There’s been a little bit of a split there,” the consultant adds. “She’s not interested in doing the Joe Miller thing again.”

Miller isn’t buying it: “I suspect that is just wishful thinking on behalf of some establishment consultant, and has no basis in reality,” he says, adding that he has long worked with Palin. “I don’t believe that she would say such a thing. What is clear to me is that anyone who would presume to speak for Sarah Palin doesn’t know Sarah Palin.”

Running could cost Palin. She has recently returned to Fox News as a contributor, a lucrative and prominent perch which she would almost certainly lose if she announced a Senate bid. If she was running her own race, she probably wouldn’t be able to maintain her role as a kingmaker in the GOP party by making endorsements and traveling around the country, as she did in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. And if she loses, she could become less influential: Losing to Begich in a one-on-one match-up in her home state is different than losing as a running mate in a national election, and would be a second straight political loss.

She also would become a rallying point for the other side. When news that she was considering a bid leaked, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina celebrated what a Palin run could do for Democrats, saying on Twitter, “Candidate @sarapalin [sic]? Could anything be better for natl Dems?” and “If @SarahPalinUSA runs for senate, id take the over on who she raises more money for, Dems or Repubs.”

All of this means that Palin might be more interested in considering a 2016 presidential bid than trying to become one of a hundred senators. On the other hand, she may not even want to remain a Republican: She suggested just a couple of weeks ago in an interview with Fox News that she might leave the GOP and help form a new party.

On balance, Palin, who generated plenty of attention by publicly flirting with a 2012 presidential bid, seems unlikely to mount a Senate run. Instead, look for her to continue to discuss the idea — and ultimately endorse someone who isn’t Joe Miller.

— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.

This article has been modified.

Katrina Trinko — Katrina Trinko is a political reporter for National Review. Trinko is also a member of USA TODAY’S Board of Contributors, and her work has been published in various media outlets ...