Sarah Palin ended a lengthy and attention-grabbing political guessing game yesterday with her announcement that she won’t seek the Republican presidential nomination.
The former Alaska governor and her party’s 2008 vice presidential nominee -- more recently a reality TV star and cable-news commentator -- said she opted against a White House run because she believes “that at this time I can be more effective in a decisive role to help elect other true public servants to office -- from the nation’s governors, to congressional seats and the presidency.”
Her announcement, in a statement sent to supporters, removed a major uncertainty surrounding the Republican race while raising questions about how she might use her celebrity and political following to shape the 2012 campaign.
“I will continue driving the discussion for freedom and free markets, including in the race for president,” Palin’s statement said. “I will help coordinate strategies to assist in replacing” President Barack Obama, keeping Republican control of the U.S. House and helping her party win a Senate majority, she said.
“I put great consideration into family life before making this decision,” she said. “When we serve, we devote ourselves to God, family and country. My decision maintains this order.”
Palin disclosed her decision the day after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he wouldn’t make a late entry into the Republican primary, dashing the hopes of some prominent activists and donors seeking an alternative to the candidates already in the race. It’s now a near certainty that the Republican nominee to challenge Obama will be chosen from among the current competitors.
The decisions by Palin and Christie to stay on the sidelines settle the diffuse Republican field and will force Republicans to finally choose sides, said John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. “What you see is what you get,” Pitney said. “People who give money and work precincts are going to have to pick from who’s out there.”
Palin will likely be a coveted endorsement for the Republican contenders.
Her decision not to run also could provide a boost to Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is competing with Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann and businessman Herman Cain for the backing of those Tea Party-aligned voters who favored Palin, as well as the fiscal and social conservatives who hold sway in the Iowa caucuses that start the nomination process.
Bachmann has seen her momentum wane since winning the Iowa straw poll on Aug. 13. Polls initially showed Perry -- who declared his candidacy that same day -- cutting into her support. Political setbacks for Perry in recent weeks have helped Cain rise in the polls.
Palin’s decision could complicate the race for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who has been vying with Perry for the lead in national polls of the Republican race and whose candidacy might have benefited from a fractured Republican base.
Palin, 47, periodically stoked speculation about her intentions, including this month with visits to Iowa and New Hampshire, where the first primary is held. Earlier this year, she traveled the East Coast on a deluxe bus emblazoned with a Liberty Bell and phrases from the Constitution and the Pledge of Allegiance, visiting historic sites.
‘Room For More’
She said during her Sept. 3 visit to Iowa that “there’s room for more” Republican presidential candidates, yet gave supporters chanting “Run, Sarah, run!” no clue about whether she would.
She offered insight into her hesitation to run in a Sept. 27 interview with Fox News. “Is a title and is a campaign too shackling?” Palin wondered aloud. “Does that prohibit me from being out there, out of a box, not allowing handlers to shape me and to force my message to be what donors or what contributors or what political pundits want it to be? Does a title take away my freedom to call it like I see it and to affect positive change that we need in this country? That’s the biggest contemplation piece in my process.”
Palin’s bow-out is the latest twist in a political and media odyssey that has inspired hero worship among some supporters and loathing by some critics. The strong reactions have cut across party lines, with Palin and her backers often casting her as a persecuted figure while detractors -- including many prominent Republicans -- dismissing her as inept and self-absorbed.
Palin burst on the national scene in late August 2008, when Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican presidential nominee, plucked her from relative obscurity in Alaska as she was serving her first term as governor to be his running mate.
Her plainspoken style and telegenic looks -- along with her socially conservative views and self-portrayal as a government reformer and “hockey mom” willing to war with entrenched interests -- struck a chord with rank-and-file Republicans. She gave McCain’s candidacy a temporary boost in his race against Democrat Barack Obama.
As the campaign progressed, though, network television interviews raised questions about her knowledge of national and international policy. Polls showed that the number of voters with doubts about her qualifications grew as Election Day approached. Obama and his running mate, then-Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, easily defeated the McCain-Palin ticket.
Eight months later, Palin blamed a bitter aftertaste from the presidential campaign for her surprise decision to resign her governorship with about 18 months left in her term. She said she had been subjected to the “the politics of personal destruction” through more than a dozen “frivolous” ethics complaints filed with state officials.
Her resignation decision also came amid a fresh round of public recriminations between McCain’s inner circle and the Palin camp over the 2008 campaign -- instigated by an article that appeared in the August 2009 issue of Vanity Fair. The almost 10,000-word piece quoted numerous McCain advisers, mostly speaking anonymously, who disparaged the Alaska governor.
Palin admirers, including conservative commentator Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard, responded by accusing some of McCain’s top campaign advisers of being dishonest and self-serving -- in effect trying to blame Palin for McCain’s 2008 loss.
Since leaving office, Palin has made millions of dollars while demonstrating an aptitude for keeping herself in the public eye. She signed on as a commentator for Fox News for $1 million a year and reportedly charges $100,000 per speech for appearances across the nation.
She earned a $1.25 million advance to pen her 2009 memoir, “Going Rogue: An American Life” and later wrote another book, “America By Heart,” for what an April 2010 New York Magazine report said was a deal with the publisher HarperCollins worth $7 million. She also starred in a reality show, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” that aired on the Learning Channel, a cable network owned by Discovery Communications, Inc., for which the magazine said she collected $2 million.
Pitney cited Palin’s earnings as one reason he considers it unlikely she will run for office in the future.
“The problem for Sarah Palin is that any elected office involves a lot of boring activities that she may not want to carry out,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the life she wants.”
Palin’s endorsement was eagerly sought during the 2010 midterm campaign, during which headlined often-raucous rallies on behalf of Republicans. She threw her backing behind some Tea Party-aligned candidates -- including several women she dubbed “mama grizzlies,” in her own mold -- who ran with varying degrees of success.
She contributed $463,500 from her political action committee in 2010 and 2009 to Republican candidates and committees, according to the Federal Election Commission. Her committee -- SarahPAC -- had $1.4 million in its coffers as of June 30, 2011, according to disclosures filed with the FEC.