If the Republican ticket goes down in defeat tomorrow, at least Sarah Palin fans can take comfort in the fact that she has established herself as one of the front-runners for the next Republican nomination. All that stands between Palin and another bid for national office is her winning reelection in 2010. And since she’s the most popular governor in the country and has an 80 percent approval rating, that ought to be a cinch, no?
Actually, no. The statistics constantly touted by the McCain campaign to hype Palin’s popularity are months old; her approval rating has dropped to 61 percent, according to a Rasmussen poll released last week. Pretty good, but not good enough to allow Palin to glide through the mess she’s made of Alaska politics for another two years unscathed.
Despite what we now know about her views and her record in Wasilla, Alaskans did not see Palin as a right-wing Republican when she burst upon the local scene, and the key to her unusual popularity before this campaign was her phenomenal standing among independents and Democrats. But now Sarah Barracuda has become a partisan figure in Alaska, just like she is in real America. In September, her approval rating fell 25 points among Democrats and seventeen and a half points among independents, according to Anchorage pollster Ivan Moore. And in October, her approval dropped — and her negatives increased — again. It’s not just Palin’s red-meat national campaign. Troopergate has destroyed Palin’s chances of working with Democratic politicians in Alaska. And every scandalous story that gets a few column-inches in national newspapers makes huge headlines in Anchorage and Fairbanks, where more than a few residents are irritated that their budget-cutting governor has billed the state for her children’s travel expenses.
Along the way, Palin has also alienated the local media. Until the summer of 2008, her relationship with the press had been pretty friendly. She had even hired some of them; before serving as Palin’s chief spokesperson, Meghan Stapleton was a reporter for KTUU-TV most famous for getting run over by a reindeer while doing a holiday story from the town of North Pole. Then Palin stopped talking to reporters. She attacked the “media elite,” leading local columnist Michael Carey to point out, “There is no media elite in Alaska,” while noting that while Palin was in New York, Rupert Murdoch and Cathy Black had squired her to “Tao on 58th Street, where a Kobe rib eye steak costs $88.” And the Alaska papers have objected not only to Palin’s “either astoundingly ignorant or downright Orwellian” response to Troopergate, but her abdication of the governor’s office to the McCain campaign. The Anchorage Daily News: “Is it too much to ask that Alaska's governor speak for herself, directly to Alaskans, about her actions as Alaska's governor?”
Weakened and irritated Republicans, emboldened Democrats, a polarized electorate, a hostile press: “It’s going to be a different landscape for her completely,” Moore says.