Indicted Hometown Senator Poses Problem for Sarah Palin

Aug 31, 2008 5:15pm

ABC News’ John Berman and Ursula Fahy Report: It’s clear who Alaska Governor Sarah Palin will be supporting when it comes to the presidential race, after all she is on the ticket. The bigger question is who will she vote for in the Senate race in her home state. Embattled Republican Sen. Ted Stevens faces a tight race against popular Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. And as of now, McCain campaign aides will not guarantee that she will endorse the senior Senator. Of course, perhaps more telling is that they won’t promise she won’t endorse him either.though the antithesis of reform, is an icon in Alaska politics.

So what is the problem? After all Stevens is her fellow Republican. Well, the problem is Ted Stevens is under indictment. Stevens, a Senator for 40 years, has come to embody Washington’s love for pork-barrel politics. And this July he was indicted for allegedly lying about gifts he received.

The endorsement issue highlights Palin’s complicated, and not always acrimonious relationship with her state’s controversial senior Senator.

At the time of Steven’s indictment, Palin, who likes to wear the mantle of a reformer, said, "News such as this rocks the foundation of our state." But she continued, "Senator Ted Stevens has dedicated his life to the betterment of Alaska. I share Alaskans’ concern and dismay at this turn of events."

In that one statement you can see the opposing political forces at work. Palin wants to be a reformer, but seems to have a hard time distancing herself too much from Stevens who,

Palin has not been shy about bucking at least some of the GOP establishment in Alaska. Remember, she unseated a Republican governor in a primary fight. And in the recent congressional primary she endorsed the opponent of longtime Republican congressman Don Young. But all that only highlights her seeming unwillingness to buck Ted Stevens too much. She pointedly did not endorse any of Stevens recent opponents in his Republican primary. It is impossible to know whether an endorsement from Palin would have swung the election one way or the other. Stevens won easily, while in the race where Palin did fight the establishment, they are still counting ballots.

More complicated history: in Palin’s 2006 race for governor, after she ousted Governor and former U.S. Senator Frank Murkowski in the Republican primary, Stevens withheld his support for Palin. But Palin was locked in what looked like a tight race in the general election, and three weeks before the election, Palin welcomed a Stevens endorsement, even releasing a campaign commercial of the event, featuring Stevens offering support of Palin, with Palin smiling mightily in the background.

One other bit of telling video: in July of this year, Stevens and Palin held a joint news conference, denying that there was any political distance between them. This was at a time before the indictment, but after an FBI raid on Stevens home, and after the scope of the investigation of Stevens was clear.

Earlier, Palin had called on Stevens to be more open about the details surrounding the investigation, but at this joint news conference she said:

"I have great respect for the Senator. He needs to be heard across America. His voice, his experience, his passion needs to be heard across America so that Alaska can contribute more."

When asked about specifically about whether Palin would back Stevens in upcoming race, Ben Porritt, a spokesman for the McCain campaign said, "Governor Palin has a record of reform. It was one of her signature issues when she ran for office. And she has a record of accomplishment in office."

Indeed, Palin helped push through key ethics reform in Alaska. And it is clear she now opposes one of Steven’s pet projects, the so-called Bridge to Nowhere (though past statements show she supported it initially). And it is even clear that Palin is not afraid to fight entrenched Republican interests in Alaska. What is less clear is whether Palin will take a definitive stand for or against Stevens before November.

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