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Wednesday, Jul. 08, 2009 at 2:37 AM
“As I thought about this announcement that I would not seek re-election, I thought about how much fun other governors have as lame ducks: They maybe travel around their state, travel to other states, maybe take their overseas international trade missions.”
- Soon-to-be-ex-governor Sarah Palin
Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska abruptly announced on Friday that she was quitting her job at the end of the month, shocking Republicans across the country and leaving both parties uncertain about whether she was leaving national politics or laying the groundwork for a presidential run.
Ms. Palin, 45, the Republican vice-presidential nominee last year, was supposed to serve through the end of 2010; she said she would cede control of the state to Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell on July 25.
Speaking outside her home in Wasilla, she offered conflicting signals about her intentions.
In her tone and some of her words as she made the announcement in an often-rambling address, Ms. Palin sounded like someone who was making a permanent exit from politics after what her friends have described as a rough and dispiriting year.
But in the course of her remarks, delivered in a voice that often seemed rushed and jittery, she sounded at times like a candidate with continued national aspirations, as when she suggested she could “fight for all our children’s future from outside the governor’s office.”
Ms. Palin said that she had decided not to seek re-election when her term expires at the end of next year and that, given that, she did not think it was fair to her constituents to continue in office.
“As I thought about this announcement that I would not seek re-election,” she said, “I thought about how much fun other governors have as lame ducks: They maybe travel around their state, travel to other states, maybe take their overseas international trade missions.”
“I’m not going to put Alaskans through that,” she said. “I promised efficiencies and effectiveness. That’s not how I’m wired. I’m not wired to operate under the same old politics as usual.”
The news conference came at the end of a week in which a Vanity Fair article about Ms. Palin brought renewed focus on many of the criticisms of her as a candidate for vice president under Senator John McCain and set off a new round of recriminations among Mr. McCain’s advisers about her competence.
But while Ms. Palin has been derided by much of theRepublican Party elite, she remains extremely popular with many grass-roots members of the party, especially social and religious conservatives, who see her as a principled and appealing standard-bearer for their values.
Ms. Palin’s announcement was another unusual marker in what has been a tumultuous year for this first-term governor since Mr. McCain turned her into a national figure over night by shocking his own party and naming her his running mate. It also underscored the instability within the Republican Party as it tries to find a strategy and voice in the wake of losses in 2008.
She made the announcement standing with her family. At one point she described how her children had voted in favor of her doing this — “Four yeses and one ‘Hell, yeah!” she said — suggesting that the family had had enough of the scrutiny that has made them tabloid staples.
But at another point she invoked a military leader in what seemed to be an effort to wave aside any suggestion that she was abandoning the fight. “Take the words of General MacArthur,” she said. “He said, ‘We’re not retreating. We are advancing in another direction.’ ”
Later in the afternoon, as questions reverberated around Republicans circles about what exactly she intended to do, she posted a notice on her Twitter site, reading: “We’ll soon attach info on decision to not seek re-election ... This is in Alaska’s best interest, my family’s happy ... It is good, stay tuned.”
The statement she eventually posted recounted what she called her accomplishment as governor.
Ms. Palin is one of a number of Republican governors who are possible contenders for the party’s presidential nomination in 2012 whose terms expire in 2010.
Many Republican strategists have argued that it would be difficult for someone to run for governor in 2010 and turn around immediately, while running a state, and run for president in 2012. Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota announced last month that he would not seek re-election when his term expires in 2010, as he considers a race for president.
Quitting midterm, however, is highly unusual. It set off a round of speculation about what led her to leave office so abruptly. One interpretation among Republicans was that she had simply underscored how erratic she is as a politician.
“Good point guards don’t quit and walk off the floor if the going gets tough,” said John Weaver, a former senior strategist for Mr. McCain. “Today’s move falls further into the weirdness category; people don’t like a quitter.”
But some of her supporters argued that this could actually provide Ms. Palin an opportunity to recover from what has been a damaging year for her, and prepare herself for the 2012 race. She has been enmeshed in continuing battles with members of both parties in her Legislature.
The sheer distance of Alaska from the rest of the country complicated her ability to take care of the most basic kind of presidential preparation work: going to Republican Party state dinners, developing a network of fund-raisers and supporters and becoming educated about the issues she might face as a presidential candidate.
In addition, Ms. Palin just signed a lucrative contract to write a book.
"I think she is trying to determine how she can better get to where she’d like to be,” said Speaker Mike Chenault of the Alaska Legislature, a Republican from the Kenai Peninsula. “And she figures that if she resigns, people can’t be taking so many pot-shots at her.”
William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard and a supporter of Ms. Palin, said that in the end, this could turn out to have been a smart move on her part.
“Everybody I’ve talked to thinks it’s a little crazy,” Mr. Kristol said. “But maybe not. What is she going to accomplish in the next year as governor? Every time she left the state she got criticized for neglecting her duties.”
“She’ll take a little hit for leaving the job early, no question about it,” he said. “But if she writes this book and gives speeches and travels the country and educates herself on some issues, that’s good.”
The way Ms. Palin presented her decision seemed to leave open the possibility that she had been motivated by any one of a number of reasons, including being sick of politics and wanting to get out or taking pre-emptive action in anticipation of some embarrassing disclosure about her personal or political life.
“It caught everybody by surprise,” said the former Alaska House majority leader, Ralph Samuels, a Republican who is contemplating a run for governor in 2010. “I’ve had a million calls today from friends, all political junkies, and everyone is asking the same questions: Is it national ambition, or does she want time to write the book, or is she just tired of it? Don’t have a clue.”
John Coale, a prominent trial lawyer and Democrat who helped Ms. Palin create her political action committee, said in an interview that he had been given no advance word of her decision.
“She didn’t even tell her brother,” Mr. Coale added.
Mr. Coale said he had spoken to Ms. Palin’s husband, Todd. “And he’s like, they’re not sure what they are going to do from here on out, but they’re sure they don’t want to do this,” he said.
If there was widespread shock over Ms. Palin’s decision in Alaska, there was also widespread acknowledgement that she had political problems that were hobbling her in office.
Lyda Green, a Republican and former president of the Alaska Senate who is from Ms. Palin’s hometown and who counted herself a friend until a falling out in recent years, said she took the announcement as tacit confirmation that Ms. Palin was running for president.
“The longer she stays in, the more people become disenchanted and see something they hadn’t seen before,” Ms. Green said. “This has been a pretty precipitous fall.”
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