Huffpost Politics
Seth Colter Walls Headshot

Stevens Is Palin's "Mortal Enemy"? Not Quite

Posted: Updated:

Despite the revelation, first reported on Monday, that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin once directed a pro-Ted Stevens political committee, the notion still persists that John McCain's running mate was a fierce foe of the recently indicted U.S. Senator.

Writing in Tuesday's New York Times, columnist David Brooks goes so far as to describe Palin as a "mortal enemy" of Stevens. On CNN over the weekend, McCain surrogate Sen. Lindsay Graham said: "If you can take on Ted Stevens and that crowd in Alaska, you can handle the Russians."

Besides her past role in the Stevens committee, however, several other facts from the historical record show these assessments to be an exaggeration worth correcting. Most recently, the governor with a reputation for zero tolerance on corruption issues held a joint media availability with Sen. Stevens -- dubbed the "Sarah and Ted" show by an Anchorage Daily News reporter. Palin stopped short of making a primary endorsement of Stevens -- citing the fact she was "on the clock" in a government building, and therefore not engaging in campaigning -- but nevertheless called herself "honored" to be sitting with the soon-to-be indicted Senator.

"But I support the Senator's proposals here and his passion to again allow Alaska to be heard and to lead with an American energy policy that has been, I believe has been sorely lacking," Palin said in her joint appearance with Stevens, adding: "I have great respect for the Senator and he needs to be heard across America."

Sen. Stevens also attempted to downplay any history of animosity between himself and the Governor during their July press conference. "Hell, I don't know if you know it but when Frank Murkwoski was first elected, this lady [Palin] and I and the mayor of Cordova, Margie Johnson, traveled around the state for two weeks," Stevens said. "We've known each other for a long time and worked together for a long time. I've never known of any animosity between us at all. We're each free to make comments about what the other does. And every once in a while, she'll say I'm stupid, and that's probably -- she may be right."

Now, the practice of politics is, of course, littered with false declarations of friendship. But NBC's First Read probably nailed the best description of the Stevens-Palin relationship when reporting that it was "not completely frosty," adding that he will likely need her help in a tough general election race against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.

In that regard, at least, Palin has already given Stevens some crucial help -- by staying out of the race. While the Governor backed her own deputy in his primary fight against similarly embattled U.S. Rep. Don Young, Palin did not assist Stevens' most credible primary challenger, Dave Cuddy. In a previous interview with the Huffington Post, Cuddy passively lamented the fact that the state's entire political power structure -- including Palin -- was standing firm behind Stevens. "If the Republicans come to understand that Ted can't beat Mark Begich, then they'll nominate me," Cuddy told the Huffington Post in July, just after the Stevens indictment. "And if they can't bring themselves to believe that, they will renominate Sen. Stevens. There's no point in my trying to convince them either way."

Cuddy lost his primary to Sen. Stevens in last week's primary, by a margin of more than 25 points.

By contrast, in the statewide primary where Gov. Palin did buck the old guard, Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell very nearly defeated the incumbent Young (who leads narrowly with nearly all votes counted). Had the widely popular Palin endorsed Cuddy in his primary against Stevens, the Senate race might have tightened, as well.

And, of course, Stevens helped Palin get elected governor in the first place, cutting a late-season ad on her behalf back in 2006:

Now, to be sure, all of this does not change the fact that Palin has been an occasional critic of the federal earmarking practice which Stevens has made his own. Nor the fact that she eventually changed her mind on the infamous "bridge to nowhere" that he fought for in the U.S. Senate (though, when running for Governor, Palin supported the project).

Still, despite these differences, it's clear that the political camps surrounding Palin and Stevens feel little of the hostility that would exist if their respective bosses were truly "mortal enemies." After all, last month Palin chief of staff Mike Tibbles created a vacancy in the Governor's office when leaving for a job on ... Sen. Stevens' reelection campaign.