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Jeanne Devon (AKMuckraker) Headshot

Palin Power and New York's 23rd District

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After the McCain-Palin ticket went down in a ball of flames last year, there was a strange period of time when we didn't quite know what to do up here. Palin lost. She was back in Alaska, slogging through the dull days as governor, attempting unsuccessfully to deal with the local fallout of a campaign that had left carnage in its wake, and trying to play nice with people who weeks before had been unceremoniously thrown under the bus. What were her plans? She certainly didn't heed the conventional wisdom that said if she had any kind of serious intent to launch a presidential run in 2012, she should go back to Alaska, be a good governor, and basically spend every waking moment trying to learn about the government, and what makes it run.

And then, of course, came the Friday afternoon before the Fourth of July weekend, when she stood on the shores of Lake Lucille, called the Alaska media to her home 45 minutes north of Anchorage, and proclaimed before God, country and a raft of honking waterfowl that she was quitting. Two weeks notice. And that, as they say, was that.

It was at this point that the muttering began. "Why are you still talking about Sarah Palin?" Sometimes the muttering came from the right, and was usually accompanied by "Why can't you just leave her alone?" Sometimes the muttering came from the left, and was usually accompanied by, "If I have to hear that woman's name one more time I'm going to shove a fork in my temple." Still others started talking about "Palin-obsessed bloggers." There had to be something wrong with someone who kept shining the light on the now ex-almost-one-term governor. The Palin era was over. Just move along. Nothing to see here.

It was obvious, and backed up by her sagging approval ratings both in the state and in the nation as a whole, that we were not going to have a President Palin. She was a divisive mayor, a divisive governor and a divisive VP candidate. Divisive doesn't win.

But long ago, some words of wisdom were spoken in Alaska "Underestimate Sarah Palin at your peril." Karl Rove has proven over and over that you don't have to hold elected office to affect policy. George W. Bush has proven over and over that you don't actually have to understand anything to be able to stand in front of a podium and speak. And Sarah Palin has proven over and over that a pair of high heels, a wink, and a dynamite performance is enough for many people.

So why does everyone keep talking about Sarah Palin? May I draw your attention to Exhibit A, New York's Congressional district 23. Moderate Dem Owens vs. Moderate Republican Scozzafava vs. the "Conservative" candidate Hoffman. This unlikely district, that has voted Republican since the Civil War Era, was all set to support the party-backed Republican candidate. Then a couple well-known conservatives started supporting Hoffman, and then... the long bony finger of Sarah Palin pointed East and declared Hoffman the chosen one. Tens of thousands in campaign contributions started pouring in, and ultimately Scozzafava withdrew from the race with an ambiguously worded statement, realizing that all the attention from Palin (and Pawlenty & Co. who were falling all over themselves to jump on her coattails) would make a win difficult. Dede Scozzafava got ground up in the gears of the Palin machine.

After Scozzafava pulled out, Palin spoke through her Facebook page (which we have come to think of as the Great and Powerful Oz), bestowing her gratitude.

"I want to personally thank Republican Dede Scozzafava for acting so selflessly today in the NY District 23 race. Now it's time to cross the finish line with Doug Hoffman so that he can get to work for District 23 and the rest of America."

We still don't know who's behind the curtain, but they seem pretty full of themselves lately.

And here's where it starts to get really interesting. It's like in those movie scenes where our hero lies, seemingly dispatched by the hideous beast, but manages somehow to spring to life as the attacker turns away, and clobber the thing in the back of the head. BLAM. The movie audience cheers.

Sarah Palin, was undoubtedly feeling like quite the King Maker. Taking the Saxby Chambliss meme one step further, she is beginning to believe that all she has to do is speak and tap a candidate on the head with her magic money-wand and >POOF!< they are instantly transported to the nation's capital. But then... BLAM. Dede Scozzafava has endorsed... wait for it... the Democrat. Ouch.

And with her support went the endorsement of the Watertown Daily Times:

Mr. Hoffman is running as an ideologue. If he carries out his pledges on earmarks, taxation, labor law reform and other inflexible positions, Northern New York will suffer. This rural district depends on the federal government for an investment in Fort Drum and its soldiers, environmental protection of our international waterway and the Adirondack Park, and the livelihood of all our dairy farmers across the district, among other support. Our representative cannot be locked into rigid promises and policies that would jeopardize these critical sectors of our economy.

This unlikely little district is a microcosm of the national Republican dynamic of self destruction. Newt Gingrich, taking the role of the voice of inclusion and moderation vs. Sarah Palin, the voice of a narrow ideological base that doesn't care a whit about long range outcomes. "If I die, I die," is a favorite Bible quote of Palin's that she has used on more than one occasion. And to Palin and her ilk, if the GOP dies, it dies. It may be the chaff that is burned off in the crucible as the conservative ideals are purified over the fire.

And while the Republican Party struggles and thrashes and fights for its very life, there are a bunch of Democrats out there just munching the popcorn.

The election is Tuesday. Will the moderate Republicans only be able to win back their district from the Teabaggers by electing a Democrat for the first time since the mid-19th century? These are strange times indeed.

But, whatever the outcome, the Republicans lose. If Owens the Democrat wins, there is no "King Maker" meme with which to flood the media. The Palinite wing of the Republican party has botched it. They have lost a fight, and it's time to go back to their corner with a big raw steak on their eye.

If the Conservative Hoffman wins, then just sit back and watch the madness. The corks will pop and Palin will get sloppy drunk on her own power. She might even really listen to those little voices whispering in her ear, telling her to make a third party run for the presidency. She will buy into her own spin, and that will be the beginning of the end. Teabaggers Gone Wild will be the entertainment du jour, and this very vocal 20% of the country is going to insert itself into races everywhere, until they awaken the sleeping giant that is... everyone else. The apathetic 80% will not stay apathetic forever, and districts like New York's 23rd are none too keen on having whack job ideologues taking over their representation in DC, putting fringe wedge issues ahead of things like jobs, and local economy.

Gingrich rightly states that the party's biggest problem is the fact that moderates, independents, and minorities are leaving in droves. A bully takeover that runs a moderate Republican out on the rails, illustrates and compounds this very problem.

The GOP does not need to fear the Democrats. Their ultimate destruction will come from within. The end will come not with a bang, but with a wink. Even if it is only the mobilization of the conservative ideologues that will ultimately take down the Republican Party, never doubt that Sarah Palin has power.