ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Gov. Sarah Palin gained fame – and to some infamy – since she embarked on a vice-presidential bid less than a year ago.
Her surprising departure from Alaska’s top office is gaining her something else: questions over her motives and next big move.
She leaves office Sunday with her political future clouded by ethics probes, mounting legal bills and dwindling popularity. A new Washington Post-ABC poll puts her favorability rating at 40 percent, with 53 percent giving her an unfavorable rating.
The Republican governor also faces an array of queries about why she is quitting more than year before her term ends and what she plans to do after she steps down.
Palin has said little about any major moves, but has hinted that she has a bigger role in mind. She is scheduled to speak Aug. 8 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, and has said she plans to write a book, campaign for political candidates from coast to coast and build a right-of-center coalition.
Above all, Palin plans to continue speaking her mind on the social networking site Twitter.
“Ain’t gonna shut my mouth / I know there’s got to be a few hundred million more like me / just trying to keep it free,” Palin said in a recent Tweet, quoting the song “Rollin’,” by the country duo Big & Rich.
Such folksy offerings endear Palin to millions of fans, including more than 100,000 who follow her on Twitter. But are they enough to launch a political movement?
Political scientist Jerry McBeath said the answer isn’t clear.
“In the context of 305 million Americans, 100,000 is not a lot of followers,” he said.
McBeath, chairman of the political science department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said Palin “needs to do something beyond tweeting – or twittering, whatever it is – to establish a continuous national presence.”
A more conventional politician would write a syndicated column or host a radio or TV show, McBeath said, but added: “I don’t know if Sarah Palin wants that.”
“I think she believes she has something to say that is of value to voters who share her views and believes that part of her calling is to continue” speaking out on Twitter, he said.
Spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton disputed the notion that Palin is running for president or has media deals lined up.
“I cannot express enough there is no plan after July 26. There is absolutely no plan,” she told The Associated Press earlier this month. “The decision (to quit) was made in the vacuum of what was best for Alaska, and now I’m accepting all the options, but there is nothing planned,” Stapleton said.
Palin’s biggest legacy may be putting Alaska on the national stage, said Larry Persily, a former journalist and Palin staffer who now works for a Republican state legislator.
“Before if you played a word game and someone said Alaska, you might say oil or even whales,” he said. “Now you say Alaska: ‘Palin.'”
Alaska’s first female governor arrived at the state Capitol in 2006 on an ethics reform platform after defeating two former governors in the primary and general elections. Her prior political experience consisted of terms as Wasilla’s mayor and councilwoman and a stint as head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Unknown on the national stage until McCain tapped her as his running mate, Palin infused excitement into the Republican’s presidential bid. But she also became the butt of talk-show jokes and Democratic criticism, targeted at news that the Republican Party had spent $150,000 or more on a designer wardrobe and what some considered poor performances by the Alaska governor in television interviews.
Now, 2 1/2 years later, former state Senate President Lyda Green, a one-time Palin ally who is now a leading critic, said Palin’s tenure is likely to have a negative effect on the state.
“There are going be some things that the Legislature will have to go in and redo,” she said, including the likely review of a ballyhooed deal to bring a natural gas pipeline to the state.
“I had high hopes going in and have been, like many other people, very disappointed in what the impact has been for the state, unfortunately,” said Green, who like Palin is a Republican from Wasilla, 43 miles north of Anchorage.
Green called Palin a narcissist whose actions “are very much toward herself and her goals and what she sees for her future.”
But Palin’s future goals remain unclear.
“I think she’s trying to figure out what her calling is,” McBeath said. “Initially she wanted to be governor, and then vice president, and now who knows?”
Stapleton said the answer will emerge in coming weeks:
“On July 27, we’ll sit down and say, ‘OK, here are your options. How do you now want to effect that positive change for Alaska from outside the role as governor?'”
Associated Press Writer Mark Thiessen contributed to this story.