Palin facing polarizing problems


JUNEAU, Alaska – It's not getting any easier for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who is becoming a more polarizing figure at home while she tries to maintain a national profile from one of the most remote states in the union.

Palin was once praised for her ability to work with Alaska Democrats to push through major initiatives, but in the wake of a bruising national campaign she's more likely now to reach across the aisle to pick a fight.

She exasperated Alaska Republican legislative leaders with mixed messages on federal stimulus plans and ended up crosswise with reporters over whether she did or didn't call on the state's junior U.S. Senator, Democrat Mark Begich, to resign. May be surprising, but, some are calling for the resignation of the governor for malfeasence.


Things haven't gone much better in the Lower 48 after she and GOP presidential candidate John McCain lost the election.

Last month, McCain wouldn't commit to endorsing his running mate for president if she ran in 2012. This week, he didn't even include her name in a list of young and dynamic Republican governors.

Palin once wowed thousands of supporters at campaign rallies, but was dropped recently as the keynote speaker of a high profile Republican fundraiser in Washington, D.C., after a communications mix-up between event organizers and her political action committee.

And this week, lawmakers are slashing her budget ahead of a Sunday adjournment. Instead of staying in Juneau, Palin attended another partisan fundraiser: a Thursday night county right-to-life dinner in Indiana.

Palin's actions of late have left many political observers scratching their heads over her future plans.

University of Alaska Fairbanks political science professor Gerald McBeath said he can't tell if she's preparing for re-election in 2010, a presidential run in 2012 or something else altogether.

"Her actions don't fit together in a pattern," McBeath said. "So that leaves me to suspect she hasn't figured it out. She hasn't decided. Or alternatively, maybe that's just part of her style and we just haven't gotten used to it yet.

"That would be a charitable interpretation," he added.

Palin's only announcement about her future is that she won't challenge U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, next year.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said Palin's traction outside the state has also slipped. Her public relations have been a disaster, he said, from the mix-up over the GOP dinner to the recent tell-all television interviews with Levi Johnston, who fathered a child with Palin's teenage daughter and is claiming to be squeezed out of the infant's life after he and Bristol Palin broke up.

"Almost everything that we've heard in the Lower 48 has been about controversy of one variety or another. Some have put her in a terrible light, such as the Levi Johnston matter. I mean, really, at a certain point you cease having the gravitas to run for president," Sabato said.

Courting the base
Palin had enjoyed the fruits of an unusually successful first two years in office, marked by passing the groundwork to build a multibillion dollar natural gas pipeline and presiding over a multibillion dollar revenue surplus driven by high oil prices. Last year, she handed out $1 billion of that surplus in fat checks to Alaskans.

But now a failed national campaign is not the only reality. She's dealing with a tighter state budget because of lower oil prices, and some question if she isn't more preoccupied with thoughts of Washington than Juneau.

While she continues to court the national conservative base, attending events like the Indiana dinner, Palin says she has turned down other requests outside the state in order to focus on Alaska.

"My priorities are to progress this state working with the other branch of government there, the lawmakers, to make sure we are meeting the priorities of our constituents," Palin said at a recent news conference. "Nothing has changed."

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