Alaska News

Sarah Palin's Arizona?

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Sarah Palin's apparent purchase of a house in an exclusive gated community in north Scottsdale has definitely set people to talking and wondering what America's most famous Republican female is up to now.

The Arizona Republic wondered in a news story Sunday whether the $1.69 million cash purchase by a Delaware limited liability company was on behalf of Sarah and Todd Palin. The story and TV news reports speculated that it was a new Palin residence from which to launch a bid for president or perhaps an open U.S. Senate seat in Arizona.

The property is held in the name of Safari Investments LLC, and a Phoenix attorney is listed as the only contact on the paperwork.

The Phoenix area, and Scottsdale in particular, is a Mecca for celebrities of all sorts -- from professional athletes to rock stars to hedge fund managers -- who have part-year or even year-round residences there. Palin's new house in far north Scottsdale is about a 30-minute drive from downtown Scottsdale and more than an hour to the house daughter Bristol purchased late last year in Maricopa.

Politicos remember that Palin seemed to like Arizona when she was running for vice president alongside Arizona Sen. John McCain. They recall that after the 2008 election, which the pair lost to Barack Obama and Joe Biden, the Palins lingered for several days at the Biltmore resort in central Phoenix.

Since then, she's been to the state a number of times, especially to help tea party-type candidates in congressional races. She appeared with McCain at least once to help him fend off a potentially tough primary challenge from conservative former congressman J.D. Hayworth, who is popular in some tea party circles.

Last fall, Palin launched a book-signing tour at the Barnes and Noble in northeast Phoenix.

Political experts interviewed by Alaska Dispatch this week say Arizona isn't a bad choice for a presidential campaign headquarters. But they don't see Palin jumping into the race for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jon Kyl, a top GOP Senate leader. After all, she could have run for the U.S. Senate in Alaska last year if she wanted to be a senator.

And maybe, they say, she just likes Arizona. Besides having daughter Bristol in the area, Palin's longtime family attorney, Thomas Van Flein, is now working for Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar.

Still, Palin clearly appears to be running for something. As usual, she's not talking, but her Facebook page is buzzing with people urging more contributions to her political fundraising vehicle, SarahPAC.

And on Tuesday, the website RealClearPolitics.com reported on a new movie about Palin that is about to debut. It's a full-length feature film aimed at dispelling some of the criticism surrounding her vice presidential run and her abrupt departure as Alaska governor.

"Why Arizona?" postulates Jason Rose, a longtime Arizona political consultant and one of the state's top GOP operatives. "It's a great place to live and will remind people of her politics, that she was John McCain's running mate and the gravitas that comes with that."

The state that was once the political home turf of Barry Goldwater is ideal for Palin, he said.

Palin also has been involved in several congressional campaigns here. Gosar, whom she endorsed, went on to defeat the Democratic incumbent in the district that covers the north and east part of the state. She also helped Rep. David Schweikert beat Democratic incumbent Harry Mitchell in the Phoenix area. And she worked for Jesse Kelly in Tucson who narrowly lost to incumbent Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

That gives her a good base of support in Arizona already, Rose said.

Palin came to town recently to help Republican Gov. Jan Brewer defend a state law that is seen as the toughest in the nation when it comes to immigration enforcement. And she also publicly backed the governor's efforts to block the Obama administrations health care reform initiative.

"I think it's a clever place from which to base a potential presidential campaign," said Rose.

Jim Haynes, an analyst with the Phoenix-based polling firm Behavior Research Center, is kind of scratching his head over finding Sarah Palin in Arizona.

He points out that presidential candidates from Arizona have not been successful. Barry Goldwater, Morris Udall, Bruce Babbitt and John McCain all failed in their presidential bids.

"Despite having highly effective political leaders, it doesn't have a good track record of electing them president," Haynes said. "I don't know that it really does a heck of a lot for her as a base."

"I guess one of the questions that might get raised is whether this a more convenient place for her to continue her role as a media commentator and the kind of stuff she's been doing since she ran for vice president," Haynes said. "Clearly it's a shorter plane ride to wherever else she's going" than Alaska.

Nathan Gonzales, an analyst with the Rothenberg Political report, said it really doesn't matter where her base is if she wants to run for president. Even Arizona will do for Sarah Palin.

"For candidates who are largely unknown to the American people, where you're from is a huge defining part of who you are," he said. "But Sarah Palin is already defined. Where she lives at the time is not going to change people's opinion of her."

Brett Mecum, executive director of the Arizona Republican Party, said Palin has not contacted the state party to discuss her plans. The party also has not done any polling or voter surveys that include Palin, he said.

But he says Arizona clearly aligns politically with Palin, especially on national issues like immigration and health care. He points out that the state is also fast-growing, with people moving in from all parts of the country. So people would tend to be more receptive to a political candidate moving in as well.

Talk of her running for Jon Kyl's Senate seat prompted a national pollster, Public Policy Polling, to include her in a recent survey of likely voters. Current U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, a popular Republican, is the only one who has officially declared for the race, and he's being afforded frontrunner status.

But the PPP poll had Palin edging out Flake in the primary.

"But Flake is currently not Republicans' top choice," a summary of the poll said. "Instead, Sarah Palin, who has talked of basing a presidential campaign in Arizona or running for this open seat, leads with 35 percent, just ahead of Flake's 33 percent, with former Rep. J.D. Hayworth at 11 percent, and three others barely registering."

In other questions on the survey, 59 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Palin compared to 34 percent who said their opinion was unfavorable. That was slightly lower than Mitt Romney's number -- 60 percent -- but well higher than Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump. It's also much higher than in her home state of Alaska where Palin's favorability is at 36 percent, according to one recent poll.

Mecum thinks Palin would be a "formidable" candidate in the U.S. Senate race, because she could quickly raise money and put an organization in place.

But longtime Arizona pollster Bruce Merrill thinks it's too late for even Palin to mount an effective Senate campaign, especially against a credible contender like Jeff Flake.

Merrill, who fly fishes in Alaska's Katmai National Park every other year, says he thinks ease of transportation is probably the main reason Palin is relocating her base to Arizona. "Anchorage is not an easy place to get into or out of," he said.

And politically it makes sense in Merrill's view because she would be in a supportive environment. "There is a sizeable right-wing tea party in Arizona," he said.

And the state is also home to a large retiree population. Merrill says polling he did during the 2008 presidential race showed older voters loved Sarah Palin.

"She's particularly liked by the older retired people," he said. "She's got that personality where she's everybody's daughter, or everybody's granddaughter. And it's the older people who vote."

Still, Merrill thinks Palin is vulnerable to much criticism, especially for leaving Alaska in the midst of her gubernatorial term. A Palin presidential nomination "would completely ensure Obama would be re-elected," he said.

"And the woman is making millions of dollars, so why would she even do that?" he wondered. "I just don't think she's viable frankly, either for the Senate here (or the presidency)."

Rose, the longtime GOP consultant, also doesn't think a U.S. Senate race is plausible, although Ben Quayle, son of former vice president Dan Quayle, won a U.S. House seat in November.

Rose points to failed bids in the past from people who moved to Arizona just because they thought they could win a vulnerable seat. Lack of roots did them in, for the most part.

Rose worked on John McCain's early political campaigns and says he too was questioned by voters for being a recent arrival in Arizona the first time he ran for office. "John McCain had spent a very short amount of time in Arizona but he famously responded the most time he'd spent in any one place was the Hanoi Hilton," said Rose. "I don't see Arizona being receptive of a new import for the U.S. Senate."

But he's not quite ready to count Palin out, on any front. "She's clearly the one person that could get in this late and raise money and do what needs to be done to be competitive," said Rose, who has worked on Mitt Romney's campaigns in the past. "She's a force of nature unto her own."

He said he had a conversation about Palin's arrival in the last day or so with the Scottsdale mayor. "Say what you will about her politics," Rose said, "she's probably going to be good for the economy."

She's already been a fundraising tool for Arizona Democrats. Party spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson said her party sent out fundraising letters in March when it was first reported in the media that Palin might be moving to Arizona to run for the Kyl seat.

The fact that she's not even announced she's running for anything and still beats Jeff Flake in the polls shows he is a weak candidate and that a mainstream Democrat would have a chance, she said.

A Palin Senate candidacy would have "massive political implications for Congressman Flake … and play to any weaknesses he has with the conservative base," she said.

The Democrats haven't fielded a candidate yet, but certainly will have a solid contender, she said.

Giffords, the congresswoman who is recovering from a gunshot wound she suffered in January when she was attacked at a political event in Tucson, told her staff the week before she was shot that she planned to run for Kyl's seat if he decided not to run again. There is much talk in Arizona that Giffords will be recovered enough to make that run next year.

A Palin run would benefit Democrats because of the "huge media spotlight" that is sure to be on any race, Johnson said.

"I think it's a great question: What's she going to be doing when she gets here?" Johnson said. "Some think she'll lay low here this time around and put down her stakes here and launch in 2016."

Gonzales, the national analyst, said it's not smart to bet on what Sarah Palin might be doing next.

"Trying to map out her life-path is going to be a very frustrating experience," he said. "Maybe she just likes spring training baseball."

Contact Patti Epler at patti(at)alaskadispatch.com

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