The massive corruption case that was brewing in 2006 meant trouble for many of the Alaska's most entrenched politicians. But for one newcomer from Wasilla, the scandal presented an opportunity.
From the early days of her primary campaign for governor, Sarah Palin had cast herself as a reformer, a Republican who had challenged the state party chairman and a Republican state official over alleged ethics violations. When, just two months before the general election, the FBI raided the offices of lawmakers later accused of taking bribes, Palin found herself perfectly placed to win the governorship by a comfortable margin.
"She positioned herself as the fresh face untainted by past bargains and past compromises," said Cliff Groh, an Anchorage attorney who is writing a book about political corruption in Alaska.
Public corruption scandals have always had a flip side. High-profile indictments or simple fatigue with a perceived culture of cronyism have, in many states, been a springboard to the governor's mansion. This fall in the New Mexico governor's race, Republican Susana Martinez and Democrat Diane Denish are both donning the mantle of reform as they vie for their state's top seat.
Corruption scandals have wracked New Mexico in recent years, from the conviction of former state senate leader Manny Aragon and other officials for skimming millions off a courthouse contract, to the indictment on 50 counts of former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Girón. Vigil-Girón has pled not guilty and is awaiting trial.
Susana Martinez, a county district attorney, has tried to tie her opponent – the current Lieutenant Governor -- as closely as possible to Governor Bill Richardson. An investigation into Richardson's relations with a state contractor led him to withdraw as a candidate for President Obama's secretary of commerce, but he was never charged with any crimes.
Meanwhile, Denish has touted her fight to clean up New Mexico's housing authority and vowed to create a strong ethics commission upon taking office.
In ordinary years, a platform of ethics reform is not strong enough to win an election, said Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois - Chicago and an expert on public corruption. But in the wake of a scandal, an ethics-focused campaign can open the doors for newcomers who did not rise through traditional party hierarchies, he said.
"When you've had a major corruption scandal," Simpson said, "someone who can convincingly say they will clean up the mess can get elected."
For Palin, her shot at Alaska's top office came with the public's desire to see a newcomer crack down on the perceived culture of cronyism in Juneau. Her timing could not have been better.
Frank Murkowski had been elected governor in 2002 after serving as U.S. Senator for 20 years. But he alienated the Alaskan public with one of his first acts as governor – appointing his daughter Lisa to take his place in the Senate. He also tried to ram an unpopular gas pipeline deal through the legislature and purchased an expensive jet with state money despite opposition from lawmakers and the public.