That’s because Palin — although based about as far North as you can get — is very popular with Southern voters. She has an in-your-face anti-liberal establishment persona that fits neatly with Dixie’s rightwing resentments. And her personal saga — she hunts and fishes — resonates with the good ol’ boys and their female equivalents. It is far too soon to begin handicapping Republican primaries in 2012, but suffice it to say that the conservative and pro-life base that turns out in droves to hear her speak could provide a major Southern foundation — in both votes and money — for a Palin presidential bid, perhaps pushing aside Huckabee and/or Crist.
In addition, if Palin is serious about 2012, she will now have the freedom to spend time away from faraway Alaska, fundraising and campaigning for Republican candidates in the Lower 48 in 2009 and 2010. Her first big test could come this fall in Virginia, one of two states (the other is New Jersey) electing a governor this year. And if she crisscrosses Dixie in 2010 on behalf of US Senate, gubernatorial and congressional candidates, she is not only likely to rally the conservative troops and help the GOP win some key races, but she will also collect some important chits for her White House run two years later.
Nationwide, Palin’s resignation announcement has been greeted by the same bifurcated reaction that has consistently characterized her meteoric rise to national prominence. The response of the nation’s media and political establishment has been strongly negative. Not only were the (mostly liberal) commentators critical of her latest move, but so were some Republicans. Ed Rollins, after acknowledging he managed Mike Huckabee’s (R) presidential campaign, said Palin’s mid-term resignation showed she was “more of a kook than serious.” Even on normally rightwing Fox News, pundits and politicos questioned the wisdom of her abandoning her commitment to the people of Alaska, wondered whether there was another shoe to drop, and gave no credence to her stated reason for resigning: That the plethora of ethics investigations in Alaska — virtually all of which have come to naught — has required more of her and the state’s resources than is justified. Moreover, the consensus of television’s talking heads is that she has dealt her presidential hopes — assuming she still had any — a body blow by her latest action.
Below radar, however, the reaction was just the opposite. Contributions to SarahPAC began to rise immediately after her announcement, presumably because her admirers figured it signaled a more serious move into presidential politics. And the Palin for President website almost had to shut down, such was the deluge of hits and emails in the wake of her statement. The site promptly expanded its capacity and promises it will now be updated daily.
This split decision has been the story of the response to Palin ever since John McCain picked her as his 2008 running mate. The Democrats, most of the media, and some Republicans have had a strongly hostile reaction to her for her poor grasp of the issues, lack of experience and inept handling of difficult family problems. At the same time, throughout the campaign, she drew crowds that not only dwarfed those of Joe Biden, Barack Obama’s running mate, but also those of McCain, the top of the GOP ticket and a veteran political figure. And after the election, although Palin was pilloried as the bane of the McCain campaign and criticized for lavish spending of GOP funds on her wardrobe, she went down to Georgia and campaigned for incumbent Saxby Chambliss in the US Senate runoff, once again drawing large crowds and rave local reviews for her political skills. (Chambliss won.)
Many Southern Republicans — although not all — are far more likely to identify with the “below radar” support for Palin than with the establishment critique. So look for Palin to very soon become a familiar figure on Dixie’s campaign trails, keeping the campaigns jumping and the speculation about 2012 lively.
So stay tuned, but whether you are pro- or anti-Palin, don’t expect static-free reception.