Watching Sarah Palin sucking on a Big Gulp at the Conservative Political Action Conference, it hit me like her eighth or 10th shot at that hapless caribou on reality TV a few years back: She must run for the Senate against Mark Begich. She simply must.
Wait. Hear me out.
Palin absolutely shined at the confab outside the nation's capital -- and why waste a performance like that? In a field that included Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, she was smokin' hot, a puncher, mocking President Barack Obama, calling him a liar, comparing him to scam artist Bernie Madoff. Gun purchase background checks? "Dandy idea, Mr. President -- should've started with yours."
Looking like anything but a has-been, she cajoled conservatives to abandon their weenie ways and, sipping from her mongo-cup, slapped at New York's nanny mayor. "Bloomberg is not around, our Big Gulps are safe." She was an absolute wrecking ball, sparks and rockets and a prism of color in a room of drab gray.
"Never before have our challenges been so big and our leaders so small," she told the crowd that kept leaping to its feet for standing ovations. It was bigger-than-life, vintage, blow-out-the-lights Palin. She was spot on.
By any yardstick, a Palin-Begich matchup would be the slugfest of the century, a political phantasmagoria with oodles of cash and panting reporters from around the world streaming here like ants to honey. Alaska would be on the front page of every newspaper in the country, leading every broadcast. "The Frontier Faceoff," "The Thrill in the Chill." The race could become Alaska's single biggest economic engine.
In the field to date, she would be the crowd pleaser, a train crash right in front of your eyes. Palin would be diddly-dee to Begich's diddly-doo. Fire to his wonkiness. Miss Happy Generality to Mr. Boring Detail.
As Palin told Andrew Halcro, the Mr. Boring Detail in their gubernatorial matchup: "Andrew, I watch you at these debates with no notes, no papers and yet when asked questions you spout off facts, figures and policies and I'm amazed. But then I look out into the audience and I ask myself, does any of this really matter?"
She knows it does not, that what matters is what people want to hear. Perception over reality. She knows that better than anybody.
Geoffrey Dunn, author of "Sarah Palin's Lies," recently described her behavior over recent years as "erratic and dysfunctional." He is right but many Alaskans will not care. She is perfect to represent this state, as erratic and dysfunctional a place as there is on the planet, and I do not say that lightly.
Count me among those who have said mean things about Palin -- a quitter, a lightweight, paranoid, not the brightest bulb in the box. I was absolutely right, of course, but that does not disqualify her for Begich's seat. We are, after all, talking about the U.S. Senate.
Besides, Alaskans already are living with Palin's sketchy legacy. Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share oil tax that is choking the state comes immediately to mind. The derailment of any realistic hope for a gas line with her silly Alaska Gasline Inducement Act. And, oh, there is Gov. Sean Parnell, her former lieutenant governor.
Parnell may or may not be in for Begich's seat. He will not say until after the legislative session. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell has launched an exploratory committee to test the waters for a possible bid. Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan is not saying whether he will. The other Sullivan, Mayor Dan of Anchorage, also might. Then, there is Joe Miller, who has a Bronze Star. He lost to write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski in the 2010 Senate election.
Add to all that yet another probe (ho-hum) of Congressman Don Young. Will that entice any potential Senate hopefuls to bail out and run for Young's seat? Only the crazy ones, I suspect.
Palin needs to repair her image in Alaska and spend time here mending fences -- and then go all mavericky on Begich.
As bad as some of the GOP possibilities are -- did I mention Joe Miller, who has a Bronze Star? -- we could end up with Begich for six more years, or forever. He is, never forget, a formidable politician.
Given that, Palin does not look so bad. She must run.
It will keep me busy.
Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com.