A walk around South Anchorage neighborhoods bearing signs with Sarah Palin’s name might convince one that Alaskans will soon elect the former governor to the US House of Representatives. Talk to Alaskans, however, and one may find they love or hate her, depending on how long they have lived in Alaska.
“Although she is a fairly strong social conservative, her populist economic policies are very concerning to most Republicans who are paying attention,” says Bob Griffin in Anchorage, whose family has lived in Alaska for generations, going back 123 years. “I think there’s a lot of people that don’t follow the issues that will be voting for her based on celebrity. I find it interesting that no major Alaska policymakers from the Republican party are supporting Governor Palin.”
“She didn’t finish her job as governor,” says Ernie Hard, a lifelong Alaskan and Republican in Juneau. Hard is referring to how Palin resigned as governor midway through her term after campaigning as vice president with John McCain in 2008. “What makes you think she’s gonna do her job in Congress for the State of Alaska?” he continues. “She would not represent Alaska, just her personal, selfish needs.”
Russel Green, on the other hand, was not in Alaska when Palin abandoned her gubernatorial post, but moved to Palmer ten years ago. He’s hoping she will fill Don Young’s seat. “I believe she will work for Alaska and has a good heart,” he says. “Begich [the opposing Republican candidate] is a con artist.”
In Alaska, the saying goes that “the odds are good, but the goods are odd.” The same could be said about the state’s politics. After the death of Congressman Young, 48 candidates initially competed for his seat, including Sarah Palin and Santa Claus (his real name, and he also lives in the North Pole). Now that the race is down to Republican Nick Begich III, Democrat Mary Peltola, and former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin, voters will use a ranked-choice system to decide who will become Alaska’s next representative in Congress.
Libby Bakalar of the famed Alaskan blog One Hot Mess said that it’s possible there is a correlation between Alaskans voting for Palin and those who came to the state after Palin resigned as governor. “It’s not a bad theory that most folks voting for her are post-2009’ers,” she says.
What is certain is that Trump draws a crowd in Alaska, as evidenced by a recent rally in Anchorage that summoned more than 5,000 screaming fans. Trump’s endorsement of Palin is a boon for the former governor, although recent polls show her popularity nose-diving. With rank-choiced voting, Peltola may win in the primary, although Begich may have an advantage in the second round of balloting come November.
Andrew Gray, a Democratic candidate running for Alaska State House District 20 in Anchorage, praises Palin for exposing ethical violations within the Republican party while governor and simplifying the tax code for oil companies, which resulted in a huge budget surplus for the state. “It was her willingness to take on the Republican establishment and the oil companies that made her the ‘maverick’ that John McCain wanted as his VP in 2008,” he says, “but that was only part of the story. Her social conservatism has been present from the beginning, and now that the mainstream Republican party has moved far to the right, she is 100 percent in lockstep with that Trump-led party. There is nothing ‘maverick’ about her anymore."
In southeast Alaska, this journalist could not find a single Alaskan – Republican or otherwise – who supports Sarah Palin. One colleague responded to my questioning about the election with a meme of Palin on toilet paper next to the word Apocalyptic.
Aaron Woodrow, who moved to Alaska in 1978 and considers himself libertarian/conservative, puts it simply: "I cannot believe she is still a relevant political figure.”
Another lifelong Alaskan Republican residing in Juneau who requested to remain anonymous adds, “Sarah is completely unfit for any political office. She is focused on herself, and less on Alaska. She wants another claim to fame, maybe because she is out of money from her stupid TV show. She is rightly labeled a pathological liar, making her as bad as Trump. However, I feel she is worse than Trump because she has a fickle brain and is a quitter.” That’s hardly the first time Palin has been labeled a serial liar.
Recently, Palin was invited to appear in a forum hosted by Soldotna and Kenai chambers of commerce. She was a no-show, but her opponents went. While top candidates Begich and Peltola discussed their views on the economy, gun rights and abortion, among other issues, Palin held a fundraiser in Minneapolis instead with Trump supporter and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. She also turned down a candidate forum hosted by the Anchorage Republican Women earlier this year.
“These candidates coast on their cults of personality/height,” Bakalar tweeted in response to Palin’s absence. “I hope in Palin’s case folks get she’s a quitter and user who’s out for herself and vote accordingly.”
John Clough, a Democrat who moved to Alaska in 1981, says, “Alaskans know the real Sarah Palin. She would be bad for women, bad for our country, and bad for Alaska.”
Chris Pierce, born and raised in Juneau, calls Palin an “attention-seeking, power-hungry person abandoning those [she] swore to serve and having a general poor understanding on the workings of government … replicated in Palin’s biggest endorser Donald Trump.”
“For Alaskans to simply ignore their own disdain for Palin to put the Trump-backed candidate into power,” he concludes, “is one more nail to add that hammers home a core truth: Conservatism is dead, and only Trump matters to voters.”
Alaskan reporter and columnist Dermot Cole explains that Palin’s “real occupation is that of being famous, a job that requires constant promotion to retain celebrity status.” Rather than campaigning for votes in Alaska, he claims, Palin has chosen to pursue outside publicity.
It appears that while central Alaska is more receptive to Palin, southeast Alaska is not.