By Reid Wilson - 07/03/09 03:28 PM EDT
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) stunned political observers Friday by announcing she will resign the governorship after just two and a half years in office.
The first-term governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee made the announcement at her home in Wasilla. Some political observers had expected Palin to forgo an opportunity to seek re-election, but few expected Palin to resign office. Her reason for stepping down was not immediately clear.
"I've determined that it's best to transfer the authority of governor to Lt. Gov. [Sean] Parnell (R). And I'm willing to do this so this administration, with its positive agenda, and its accomplishments, and its successful road to an incredible future for Alaska -- so that it can continue, without interruption, and with great administrative and legislative success," she added.
Her departure paves the way for Parnell to be sworn in; Alaska NBC affiliate KTUU said Palin indicated Parnell would take office at the end of the month.
An emotional Parnell said, "It's with a heavy heart I hear those words."
"I profoundly respect your decision, for I know the depth of character and decision that brought you to that," he told Palin, appearing with her at the announcement. "Rare, indeed, are such selfless acts seen in the public arena."
Palin's move, coming nearly a year before she would be forced to reveal her plans by filing deadlines, is sure to lead to widespread speculation that Palin will devote herself full-time to a presidential bid in 2012. At Friday's news conference, Palin did not give an indication about her future plans; she did not take questions.
And the announcement comes after a week in which Palin allies and detractors blew up a war of words that has been quietly brewing ever since the presidential ticket led by Sen. John McCainJohn McCainSenate rivals gear up for debates McCain opponent releases new ad hitting his record Why is the election so close? Experts say it's all in your head MORE (R-Ariz.) lost in November.
An article in Vanity Fair this week featured multiple sources in the McCain campaign who told the magazine, on condition of anonymity, that Palin was not ready to be vice president. Palin allies, including conservative columnist Bill Kristol and several heavyweights in Washington, slammed the anonymous sources for cowardice and malicious intent in subsequent pieces in other publications.
In her Friday announcement, Palin made a seemingly veiled reference to the Vanity Fair article, which she characterized as a blatant shot at wounding her politically.
"My choice is to take a stand and effect change and not hit our heads against the wall," Palin said. "You are naive if you don't see a full court press from the national level picking away right now a good point guard."
Kristol has focused his fire on McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt, who Kristol accused of running a poor campaign. On Saturday, Mark Salter, McCain's closest aide and advisor, waded into the fray to defend Schmidt against Kristol's attacks in an email exchange with The Washington Post.
Despite the tension surrounding Palin's tenure as vice presidential nominee, the Alaska governor remains one of the leading contenders for the GOP's presidential nomination in three years. She has ignited a frenzy among a Republican base that, otherwise, has been unenthusiastic about its leaders in Washington.
-- Michael O'Brien contributed to this report.