Sarah Palin’s House candidacy causes GOP rift and reopens old wounds

Hardliners in the GOP are already planning to invite her to join their congressional caucus. And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Wednesday that he is a “huge fan” of hers.

But some Republicans in Alaska are scoffing.

“We have 50 names that Alaskans will have the opportunity to choose from,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the state’s senior senator, who has long had a cool relationship with Palin, told CNN in Washington. “A lot of very well-qualified people that nobody else talks about here. At home, they are. So this is its own kind of bubble. I’m just telling you, you’re not in the Alaskan bubble, because Alaskans are talking about others”.

“That’s a really tough question,” Murkowski said. “Because it’s been years.”

Palin’s decision to jump into the race to replace the late Don Young, who represented the state for nearly 50 years, adds a nationally prominent candidate to a field of nearly 50 people. And she reopens old wounds with some Republican critics, who were eager to see fickle politics kept away forever after she abruptly resigned as governor of Alaska in 2009.

Some of his opponents are trying to cash in on the rift he left behind.

“A lot of people I know were very surprised because we didn’t realize she was still a resident of the state,” said Nick Begich III, a Republican challenger for the seat and the late Rep. Nick Begich’s grandson and nephew. former Democratic senator Mark Begich. “Most people haven’t seen her around. I’ve been to hundreds of events over the years and seen her maybe once. And that’s been true for just about everyone I’ve talked to.”

Palin still has a home in Wasilla, Alaska, the small town where she was first elected to the city council 30 years ago before serving as mayor. She then defeated Murkowski’s father, Frank, in the 2006 gubernatorial election. After catapulting onto the national stage as the running mate of Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain in 2008, she resigned three years after his four-year term.

In announcing her resignation, Palin likened herself to a rank-and-file who would selflessly “pass the buck for victory” and save state taxpayers money by leaving office early, as several ethics complaints were filed against her.
“Many just accept that lame duck status, hit the road, get the paycheck and milk it. I’m not going to put Alaska through that, I promised efficiencies and effectiveness,” he said at the time.

A Palin campaign adviser touted the former vice presidential candidate’s long ties to the state.

“Sarah Palin would be honored to serve the men and women of Alaska in Washington and carry on the legacy of Don Young,” the adviser said. “She is a lifelong Alaskan from the age of three months whose youngest son is still a high school student in Wasilla.”

But Alaska Republican critics of Palin say she hasn’t been involved in state politics for years, spending some of her time living elsewhere and traveling the country promoting her conservative causes.

Since leaving office, Palin has bought and sold homes in Arizona. Released a New York Times bestselling memoir, “Going Rogue,” filmed the TLC reality series “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” and the Sportsman Channel’s “Amazing America with Sarah Palin,” launched and launched the Sarah Palin online channel, and provided political commentary. on Fox before her contract was not renewed in 2015.
He also received questions about running for various offices, including against Murkowski in the senator’s 2022 re-election bid, and recorded a video calling Murkowski as the senator weighed whether to endorse Amy Coney Barrett’s 2020 Supreme Court nomination. (Murkowski ended up voting for Barret.)

Lately, Palin has been criticizing the effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines, telling a conference sponsored by Turning Point USA in Phoenix: “It will be on my dead body that I will have to get vaccinated.”

“I won’t do that,” said Palin, who tested positive for Covid-19 in 2021 and 2022. “I won’t, and you better not touch my kids either.”

In an interview this week, Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican who served as attorney general while Palin was governor, said he did not support the race at this time.

“We have a lot of good candidates in the race, 50. She’s one of them,” Sullivan said. “And what I’m looking for right now is someone who can fit in Don Young’s seat as a fighter.”

When asked if Palin would be a good partner on Capitol Hill, Sullivan said, “There are a lot of people who would be good partners, and she’s one of them.”

Murkowski had a different answer to that question.

“I’m not going to give an analysis of her at this point,” Murkowski said. “I’m talking about all these other campaigns.”

Palin rankled Murkowski in 2008 when she continually touted her effort to break the “old men’s web,” a reference to the senator’s father, and even flirted with challenging the senator in 2010.

Murkowski warned her at the time not to challenge her.

“I can guarantee that it would be a very difficult choice,” Murkowski said in 2008. Palin never ran against Murkowski.

Asked about that episode and his relationship with Palin, Murkowski said Wednesday, “I’m not going to talk about Sarah Palin.”

A complicated road to victory

The 2022 elections could also be risky.

The top four candidates from the June 11 special primary election will run in the August 16 special general election. The winner will serve in Congress until January.

On August 16, Alaskans will also vote in the regular primary election, with the top four candidates facing off against each other on November 8. The winner of that House race will get a full two-year term.

Alaskan elections are now ranked-choice voting, where voters can rank up to five candidates.

Now, Palin faces nearly 50 opponents in her bid for Congress, including Begich. Other Republican candidates include state Sen. Josh Revak, former Bureau of Indian Affairs chief Tara Sweeney and former state Sen. John Coghill. Independent Al Gross, who ran and lost Alaska’s 2020 US Senate race as a Democratic candidate, and Democratic Assemblyman Chris Constant are also running.

Young’s footprints are all over the race for his successor; Revak and Sweeney were the state co-chairs of Young’s 2022 campaign, and Begich co-chaired his 2020 campaign before announcing his 2022 candidacy against the congressman.

In interviews, Revak, an Army veteran, and Begich sought to distinguish themselves from Palin.

“I’m not going to Congress to be an arsonist,” Revak said. “I’m going to go there to represent Alaskans.”

Begich added, “I think many Alaskans recognize that one style of lightning rod will do little or nothing to advance Alaska’s case nationally.”

Conservative House Republicans embrace Palin

In the House, Palin’s candidacy for Congress was received more warmly by her would-be Republican colleagues.

Members of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, an invitation-only group that has morphed into a Trump loyalty club over the years, said Palin would likely find a welcome home on their conservative team.

“Glad to hear it,” Freshman Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana, a member of the Liberty Caucus, said of Palin’s announcement. “And I hope that if she gets to Congress, she’ll be a member of the Freedom Caucus.”

In an interview with Fox this week, Palin singled out the Freedom Caucus as a group she’d be interested in joining and praised their brand of rabble-rousing politics.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of the Freedom Caucus,” Palin said. “I’ve always felt sorry for them. Because they’ve been criticized, beaten up and misunderstood. But they have the right priorities.”

But it’s not just the far-right group: The highest-ranking Republican in the House also praised Palin.

“I’m a huge fan of Sarah Palin,” said McCarthy, a close Trump ally. “I was impressed. I’ve talked to her before.”

Republicans believe Trump’s endorsement could certainly give Palin an edge in a packed primary, but they also noted that she is already a national figure in conservative politics with massive name recognition.

“We can’t ignore that he’s made a name for himself in his own right,” Rosendale said.

Although members of the Freedom Caucus were mostly excited by the prospect of Palin joining their ranks, some of them couldn’t help but scoff at the blunders that often defined her political brand.

“I know she could see Russia from her back porch,” Tennessee Rep. Scott DesJarlais joked when asked about Palin’s politics, referring to Palin’s impersonation of Tina Fey on “Saturday Night Live.” “But no, she’s very conservative… I look forward to working with her.”

This story has been updated with a response from the Sarah Palin campaign.

CNN’s Ted Barrett and Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.

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