WASILLA, Alaska — In her hometown of churches in a mountain valley in south-central Alaska, Sarah Palin’s star has dimmed lately.
On Sunday in the small town of Wasilla, some congregations who helped fuel his political rise years earlier were weighing whether his bid for Alaska’s lone congressional seat in the state’s special election and Tuesday’s primary election be supported.
“Sarah is conservative, but she seems to be drawn more into politics rather than values,” said Scott Johannes, 59, a retired contractor attending Wasilla Bible Church. He said he was undecided. “I think his influence is now from outside the state,” he said.
But nearby, at another Wasilla church attended by Ms Palin, 38-year-old Joel Sanchez said she still believed Ms Palin stood with Alaskans, even though she didn’t always agree with the candidate’s flamboyant personality. Huh. Ms. Sanchez’s relatives and friends have split over whether to support Ms. Palin’s run for Congress, she said.
“I feel like they are looking at her with dirty glasses,” said Ms. Sanchez, a Church on the Rock pastor who was leaning in to support Ms. Palin. “I won’t vote until I’ve taken the time to do a little more research,” she said.
In churches and coffee shops, on conservative airwaves and on right-wing social media, Alaska voters have debated Ms Palin’s intentions for a political return – whether she is interested in public service or more fame.
Ms. Palin, the former state governor and Republican nominee for vice-presidential in 2008, overcame an obstacle in June when she led a field of 48 candidates in a special primary election to fill the seat of longtime Representative Don Young, who died in march As soon as he flew home. But she faces the next test on Tuesday in a complicated special election that will allow voters to rank their top choices.
Ms Palin’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for interviews. In a lengthy interview with The Anchorage Daily News after announcing her race in April, Ms Palin disputed the claim that she was not committed to Alaska.
“The establishment machines in the Republican Party are very, very, very small. They have a loud voice. They carry purse strings. They have the ear of the media. But they don’t necessarily reflect the will of the people.” Ms Palin told the newspaper.
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Interviews with two dozen voters and strategists in Wasilla, Palmer and Anchorage on Saturday and Sunday captured the challenges ahead for Ms Palin, who has led former President Donald J. Trump, but Joe says November is a tough hill to climb because of his low approval rating.
Many voters said that Ms Palin had left Alaska after she resigned from the office of governor in 2009. Ethics complaints and legal bills, But Ms Palin’s support remains strong among other Republicans, including conservative women who have followed her political rise and see themselves in her struggles as a working mother.
“She’s real, she’s authentic – what you see is what you get,” said TJ Despen, 51, an art therapist who attended an outdoor concert in Palmer and who said she loved Ms. She was ready for rock-star status. “She looks like an Alaskan Barbie.”
Ms Palin faces several candidates in a special election to fill the remainder of Mr Young’s term. These include Mary Peltola, a Democrat who could become the first Alaska Native in Congress, and Nicholas Begich III, a Republican descendant of the state’s most prominent Democratic political family. A former Trump administration official, Tara Sweeney, is running as the write-in candidate.
The special election, which will allow voters to rank their preferences for the first time, is taking place from 2023 along with the state’s nonpartisan primary election to fill House seats. In that race, voters are asked to make their own choices from a list of 22 candidates from all parties and affiliations that includes Ms Palin.
The new ranking system has ranked some Republicans who argue that it undermines their vote. Ms Palin has encouraged supporters to rank her and hers alone.
Establishment Republicans are urging party voters to rate Palin and Begich in the top slot, fearing that Peltola, a Democrat, could clear the way for victory. Should Mr. Begich or Ms. Peltola prevail in the special election, a victory for either one could serve as a major boost in momentum and name recognition.
In Wasilla and the nearby city of Palmer, many voters still remember the days when Ms. Palin competed in the beauty queen pageant and starred on the high school basketball team. Some said they admired how she never seemed to lose her down-to-earth personality, even as her star rose, and how she always The local grocery store or Target seemed ready to negotiate.
And many didn’t forget 2008, when Palin entered the national stage as Senator John McCain’s running mate and began to take on a new and unfamiliar personality. Her anti-establishment language has since come to define the Republican Party, and other candidates have followed suit.
Some Alaskans view her status as a far-right celebrity as an asset, as some callers did on “The Mike Porcaro Show,” a conservative talk radio program. He argued that Ms. Palin would be able to draw attention to Alaska in a way that a lesser-known newcomer to Congress would not.
But his fame has also paid a price for his support. “Now she likes to be in the limelight with all these shameless comments and things,” said Jim Jurgelit, 64, a retired engineer who said he was voting for Ms.
Ms Palin has been mostly on the reality TV circuit and has been promoting other Republicans out of state since she resigned from the governor’s office. Some argue that it has spent more time campaigning than conservative channel Newsmax or in the lower 48 states. Janet Kincaid, 88, owner of the Colony Inn in Palmer, once opened her lakeside home in Wasilla for a $20,000 fund-raiser when Palin ran for governor. Now, she loved talking about Mr. Begich, for whom she has hosted two fund-raisers.
“Frankly, I’m a strong supporter of Nick Begich,” she said. “I think he’d be a better fit for the job.”
On Monday evening, Ms Palin’s former in-laws were also hosting a fund-raiser for Mr Begich at their Wasilla home. Ms Palin’s ex-husband, Todd’s father Jim Palin, declined to comment on Ms Palin. But when asked why he was backing his former daughter-in-law’s rival, he said, “He’ll be in that job for as long as we want.”
At a vintage car show in downtown Palmer, Richard Johnson shows off his 1963 Pontiac Grand Prix. He said he still saw Ms Palin as a reflection of his old school, conservative values and planned to vote for her. “She’s a quitter,” he said, “but at least she stands for something.”