SEATTLE -- Sarah Palin's last elective position in Alaska ended early when in 2009 she abandoned the governorship midway through her first term.
But tea party activists appear eager for a comeback, urging supporters to contribute money toward recruiting Palin to run for the U.S. Senate in her home state, where, according to an email sent out this week, she has a "clear path" to defeat incumbent Democrat Mark Begich.
"You and I both know that Sarah Palin is a fighter who will stand up to Harry Reid and his pals in the Senate to protect our Constitution in issues like amnesty, gun control and our nation's crushing debt," said the email from Todd Cefaratti of the Tea Party Leadership Fund.
"We know that, with Sarah in the Senate, conservatives across America can rest a little easier at night knowing that she's at the watch," it said.
If Palin is enthusiastic about running for the Senate in Alaska, she hasn't said so. Nor has her popularity in Alaska endured to the degree that it has on the national stage since her nomination to the GOP presidential ticket in 2008 and subsequent years as a conservative media celebrity.
"I don't see Governor Palin really as a likely opponent," said Anchorage pollster Matt Larkin of Dittman Research, which did work for Palin's gubernatorial campaign. "She doesn't have the popularity that she once had in the state of Alaska; it's fallen off significantly."
Begich managed to win the seat in a state where Republicans hold a substantial edge by running against the late Republican Sen. Ted Stevens when he was under indictment on federal corruption charges and was found guilty on the eve of the 2008 election. The case was later tossed out.
Since then, though, Begich has toed an independent line, pushing strongly for oil and gas development in Alaska in votes that differ little on Alaska resource issues from those of GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
"His numbers are absolutely as good as they could be, given a state like Alaska," state Democratic Party spokesman Zack Fields said.
A February poll by Public Policy Polling showed him with a 49 percent approval rating and leading most potential contenders, including Palin, who polled 37 percent to Begich's 54 percent.
The exception was Republican Gov. Sean Parnell. When matched again him, Begich and the governor polled even at 48 percent.
Since then, Begich's vote against an Obama administration-backed bill to expand background checks to private sellers at gun shows and on the Internet cost him in support among Democrats and independents, the same polling organization said in a poll Monday. That poll showed his approval rating having slipped from 49 percent in February to 41 percent with no substantial improvement in support among Republicans.
Begich has said his vote reflected his state's and his commitment to the rights of gun owners. "I've said all along that there are common-sense things we can do to keep our communities safe, but we must do them without undermining our Second Amendment rights," he said in a statement.
Fields said the poll means little for the election because Democrats have nowhere else to go. "That drop-off will bounce right back up," he said. "At the end of the day, Democrats are going to vote for the Democrat."
Former U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller of Fairbanks, another tea party favorite, who won the Republican primary against Murkowski in 2010 before losing after she waged a write-in campaign, already has signaled his intention to explore a Senate run.
Also mentioned as possible candidates have been Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan.
Palin has shown little interest in Alaska politics since she left office, spending much of her time these days in Arizona, but lately has begun tweeting occasionally about her home state.
She documented husband Todd Palin's run in the Iron Dog snowmachine race in February, "thawing out in the truck" waiting for him to cross checkpoints. This month, she posted a photo of the "tons of new snow" piled on her sister's barbecue in her hometown of Wasilla, and a video from the Wasilla High School prom.
But she's said nothing on the issue of a Senate run, nor has her spokesman.
By Kim Murphy
Los Angeles Times