WASILLA, Alaska — Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin surprised supporters Friday and announced she is resigning from office at the end of the month without explaining why she plans to step down — throwing into question whether she would seek a run for the White House in 2012.
The news rattles a Republican Party plagued with setbacks in recent weeks, including extramarital affairs disclosed by two other 2012 presidential prospects, Nevada Sen. John Ensign and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.
Palin hastily called a news conference Friday morning at her home in suburban Wasilla, giving such short notice that only a few reporters actually made it to the announcement. Security blocked late-arriving media outside her home, and her spokesman, Dave Murrow, finally emerged to confirm that Palin will step down July 26. He refused to give details about the governor’s future plans.
The former Republican vice presidential candidate said she had been considering leaving office since she decided not to run for re-election.
“Many just accept that lame duck status, and they hit that road. They draw a paycheck. They kind of milk it. And I’m not going to put Alaskans through that,” Palin said.
Palin spokesman David Murrow said the governor didn’t say anything to him about this being her “political finale.” Murrow said he interpreted Palin’s comment about working outside government as reflecting her current job only.
“She’s looking forward to serving the public outside the governor’s chair,” he said.
Political analyst Larry Sabato, in Charlottesville, Va., said Palin’s announcement left many wondering what her plans were.
“It’s absolutely bizarre, and I think it eliminates her from serious consideration for the presidency in 2012,” he said.
Palin hinted that she had a bigger role in mind, saying she wanted to make a “positive change outside government.” But she kept supporters in suspense, promising later Friday on Twitter: “We’ll soon attach info on decision to not seek re-election … this is in Alaska’s best interest, my family’s happy … it is good. Stay tuned.”
Jerry McBeath, a veteran political science professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, called the pending resignation a “smart move,” both for Palin and the state.
“Alaska is an isolated stage from which to operate if you want to figure in American national politics. I don’t know what she has in mind, some TV show or some national radio show. There are opportunities for her, I’m sure.”
“After all, Rush Limbaugh is getting old, and cranky, and the airwaves and the videowaves would benefit form a new present. She certainly is photogenic, and that is her area of experience. So I would say it’s a response to opportunity instead of ’getting out before they get you,”’ he said.
As for the state, he said Palin’s departure will reduce the distractions and return Alaska to normal politics.
Palin said her family weighed heavily in her decision.
“This decision has been in the works for a while. This decision comes after much consideration, prayer and consideration,” she said. “Finally, I polled the most important people in my life, my kids, where the count was unanimous. Well, in response to asking, ’Hey, you want me to make a positive difference and fight for all our children’s future from outside the governor’s office?’ It was four yeses and one ’Hell, yeah!” And the hell, yeah sealed it.”
Palin’s decision not to seek re-election was a familiar one for a potential presidential candidate. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney chose not to seek another term as he geared up for an unsuccessful 2008 presidential bid. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has announced he won’t seek another term, giving him plenty of free time ahead of a potential 2012 bid.
And Alaska’s remote location seemed prohibitive for her to visit key early states such as Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina. She would lose at least a day for travel on each trip, while her competitors could make day trips to Des Moines, Manchester or Columbia to drive news.
By exiting the governor’s office early, she wouldn’t be held back by her day job’s duties or be drawn into state-level fights with national implications. But the early exit from the governorship also raised questions about how seriously she takes her job.
Palin emerged from relative obscurity nearly a year ago when she was tapped as then Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s running mate.
She was a controversial figure from the start, with comedian Tina Fey famously imitating her elaborate hairstyle and folksy “You betcha!” on “Saturday Night Live.”
She didn’t leave the limelight once McCain lost the presidency. She recently led a public spat with “Late Show” host David Letterman over a joke he made about one of her daughters being “knocked up” by New York Yankees baseball player Alex Rodriguez during the governor’s recent visit to New York. Palin’s 18-year-old daughter, Bristol, is an unwed, teenage mother. Letterman later apologized for the joke.
Her 2008 running mate, Sen. John McCain, wouldn’t be offering reaction on Friday, a spokeswoman said.
Palin also complained that her 14-month-old son, Trig, who was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome, had been “mocked and ridiculed by some mean-spirited adults recently.” She didn’t elaborate.
Fred Malek, a Republican strategist who has advised Palin over the past year, said Palin was “really unhappy with the way her life was going.”
“She felt that the pressures of the job combined with her family obligations and the demands and desires to help other Republican candidates led her to decide not to run again. Once that decision was made, she realized, why not do it now and let the lieutenant governor take over and get a head start on his election,” Malek said.
The 2008 vice presidential nominee was seen as a likely presidential contender in 2012 and had proved formidable among the party’s base. But the last week brought a highly critical piece in Vanity Fair magazine, with unnamed campaign aides questioning if she was ever really prepared for the presidency.
The backbiting continued through the week, with follow-up articles recounting the nasty infighting that plagued her failed bid. Her advisers sniped with other Republicans, underscoring the deeply divided GOP looking for its next standard bearer.
Palin’s resignation announcement caught Republicans and Democrats alike by surprise, but it also suggested she had her eyes on another presidential run. She alluded to how she could help change the country and help military members — code that she didn’t think her time on the national stage was over.
But the early exit from the governorship also raised questions about how serious she takes her job.
Palin’s resignation, timed on the eve of the July 4 holiday when many Americans had already begun a three-day weekend, seemed designed to avoid publicity while openly leaving office.
Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell will be inaugurated at the governor’s picnic in Fairbanks at the end of the month.
Palin was first elected in 2006 on a populist platform. But her popularity has waned as she waged in partisan politics following her return from the presidential campaign. Her term would have ended in 2010.
Palin expressed frustration with her current role as governor.
“I cannot stand here as your governor and allow the millions of dollars and all that time go to waste just so I can hold the title of governor,” Palin said.
Palin’s decision even took Parnell by surprise. He said he was told on Wednesday evening, and was not aware that any presidential ambitions were behind the move.
Other recent GOP troubles include affairs by Ensign and Sanford. Ensign, a member of the Christian ministry Promise Keepers, stepped down from the Senate Republican leadership last month after admitting he had an affair for much of last year with a woman on his campaign staff who was married to one of his Senate aides. Ensign later disclosed he had helped the woman’s husband get two jobs during the affair.
A government watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, wants the Senate ethics committee and the Federal Election Commission to investigate.
Just days after news of Ensign’s affair broke, Sanford admitted an affair with a woman in Argentina. Some lawmakers are now calling for his resignation. Before the admission, Sanford had been missing from the state for five days visiting his lover. He had slipped his security detail, lied to his staff about where he was and failed to transfer power to the lieutenant governor in case of a state emergency.
The party’s troubles seem to have left two prominent 2012 prospects, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and 2008 presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, unscathed, however.