Can Ted Stevens thrust Palin back into the national spotlight?
ANCHORAGE – Gov. Sarah Palin has gone home to Alaska, but her return to the national political stage may come sooner than the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign.
If Republican Sen. Ted Stevens maintains his slim lead over Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, it could once again thrust Palin into the spotlight. The 84-year-old Stevens could be re-elected for an eighth term despite being convicted of corruption last month. His conviction prompted calls for his resignation from Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Palin, his running mate. Stevens has vowed to fight on even though a convicted felon has never served in the U.S. Senate.
The conviction came a week before election day — too late to replace the longest-serving Republican on ballots in Alaska. If Stevens wins the election and then relinquishes his seat, that’s when things could get interesting.
It would force a special election 60 to 90 days from the time the vacancy occurs. Alaska’s Division of Elections said Palin would make a temporary appointment to hold the seat until a new senator is chosen by special election. One candidate being discussed in Alaska’s Republican circles? Yes, the governor herself. If Palin doesn’t take that step, she could also play the role of kingmaker and hand a political ally the tag of incumbent heading into the special election.
There is some debate over whether Palin has the right to temporarily appoint a person to the Senate. Proponents of a citizen initiative passed in 2004 said that measure stripped the governor of the right to make Senate appointments — even temporary ones. The initiative was passed after then-Gov. Frank Murkowski appointed his daughter Lisa to the Senate seat he vacated to become Alaska governor.
Palin, who returned to Alaska Wednesday night, seems to have retracted her earlier call for Stevens to resign. Speaking to reporters at the Anchorage international airport, Palin said: “The people of Alaska just spoke. They said that they want him as their senator.”
Well, not every Alaskan has spoken yet. At last count, there are still at least 70,000 ballots to be counted and Begich is trailing by about 3,000 votes. If “Uncle Ted” can pull this out, we might hear from “Sarah Barracuda” sooner than we thought.
Photo credit: Reuters/Mike Blake (Palin waves to crowd after McCain delivered his concession speech in Phoenix on Nov. 4)