Palin's decision to resign: Is it smart?

Some analysts say her political career is over. Others say she will be in a better position now to run for national office.

Robert DeBerry/The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman/AP
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin announced Friday that she is stepping down from office on July 26, after serving 2-1/2 years of her four-year term. She did not reveal her plans.

Why is Sarah Palin resigning as governor of Alaska?

She has not said, exactly. At her surprise announcement on Friday that she would step down from office July 26, she said only that she did not want to be a lame-duck statehouse executive “in this particular climate.”

But the move does make sense if Governor Palin has her sights on national office.

Free to move about the country

For one thing, she won’t have to live in Alaska. At least, she won’t have to be in Alaska for her day job. Presidential hopefuls generally spend much time testing the waters with short trips to New Hampshire and Iowa. Nothing against the Last Frontier, but it is a long way from Nashua.

Palin needs to leave home if she wants to promote her national presence, says Gerald McBeath, a political scientist at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. “This is Alaska. It’s remote and isolated, and it’s not a good place to operate if you want a national presence,” he says.

Crunch time for governors, in general

Second, Palin now won’t have to make decisions that could cause her political trouble down the road. It’s no secret that the recession is making this a tough time to be a governor. Around the country, many are struggling to cut spending and are even raising taxes to try to keep their budgets in the black. All Palin has to do is look south to California and see GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s troubles if she wants a glimpse of how bad things can get.

Fewer financial strictures

Finally, now she’ll be free to build a national team and, even more important, raise national money. As a private citizen, she will have more flexibility to give speeches at hefty fees and meet with wealthy donors whose backing, and whose friends’ backing, she will need if she does decide to try for the Oval Office in 2012.

She will also have more time to raise money and campaign for other Republicans around the US. That is an important and rational way of building good will and support for a national run. Both Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon traveled the nation for the GOP before their own presidential runs, notes Grover Norquist, president of the Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative antitax group.

“Nixon wasn’t in office for the four years before he ran in 1968, and Reagan wasn’t in office for . . . four years before 1980,” says Mr. Norquist. “This gives you more freedom to go out and introduce yourself."

He added: "It is not irrational for somebody who wanted to be president to say: 'I'm going to step out here and be a national leader, which I cannot do tied down to a state legislature which delights in being annoying.' "

Bad timing, bad judgment, say critics

On the other side of ledger, Palin’s political opponents now will waste no time in branding her as a quitter. They point to the suddenness of the decision, its announcement at the beginning of a three-day holiday weekend, and say this is another example of why she is not qualified for national office.

“She’s no longer a serious candidate for president,” says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville. “The long knives have been out for her for a long time, but she has just handed the longest knife of all to her opponents.”

As to other possibilities, some pundits have mentioned that Palin might want to run for one of Alaska’s two Senate seats. But that’s a state race, and Alaska voters now might view her as having run out on them.

Time away from politics?

It could also be that Palin is sick of politics and wants to get out of the business completely. Given the ups and downs she has experienced so far, this might not be altogether surprising. By resigning now, she can focus on making money by writing books and giving speeches while her run for the vice-presidency is still fresh in the minds of her audience.

And she would get to keep the cash. After resigning, she will not be bound by any ethics laws that restrict the outside income Alaska governors can earn.

“It may be that she has a whole stack of other things that she wants to do,” says Ivan Moore, an Anchorage-based political consultant who generally works for Democrats. “Good luck to her if that’s what she wants.”

Yereth Rosen in Anchorage, Alaska, contributed to this report.

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