By Alexander Bolton and Reid Wilson - 06/08/09 07:17 PM EDT
Sarah Palin has begun to get on the nerves of Republican senators who say the former GOP vice presidential nominee is taking her own White House aspirations entirely too seriously.
But those same senators may have their eye on a 2012 White House run or be friends with senators with presidential ambitions. And Palin, who does not have a lot of Washington connections, energized the party’s grass roots in 2008 while bucking the D.C. establishment, leaving much of the party’s elite grumbling about her appeal to the conservative base.
“She has to hunker down and govern and show she’s not a joke,” said a GOP lawmaker who represents one of the southern battlegrounds of the 2012 election.
Palin re-emerged in the national political spotlight this week, attending fundraisers in New York and sitting down for an interview with Fox News anchor Sean Hannity.
But her high-profile foray to the East Coast has not been without its stumbles — and a scheduling spat with the Senate and House Republican fundraising committees threatens to raise more questions about her viability as a national party leader.
“She’s had some struggles, saying yes and no to the invitation. Her PAC [political action committee] has stalled,” the GOP lawmaker noted.
Republicans are frustrated that Palin has wavered over whether to accept an invitation to appear as the headline guest at Monday’s fundraising bash for National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).
Only a few hours before its start time, The Washington Post reported Palin would attend the dinner.
She reportedly worried that she could overexpose herself on the national political stage. But several GOP senators said she has much graver problems to worry about than attending a private dinner to raise money for Republican candidates for Congress.
“[Democrats and the media] did a number on her,” said the lawmaker from the southern battleground. “She has some hurdles, especially among independents and Democrats.
“She lost support among the independents and moderate Republicans, and a lot of them give money,” the lawmaker added.
But the lawmaker said that Palin could pursue a path similar to the libertarian Republican presidential candidate, Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), who raised tens of millions of dollars in small gifts over the Internet.
A senior GOP lawmaker said that while Palin may not be taken seriously by some Washington elites, she remains wildly popular among blue-collar conservative voters.
“Her supporters relish the idea that she doesn’t have a lot of money; she could raise it in small amounts over the Internet like Barack Obama,” said the lawmaker. “She’s about the only person in our party who can draw a crowd.
“She appeals not just to social conservatives but also to a lot of blue-collar, working-class Republicans in my state,” he added.
“People in the Northeast who read The New York Times and went to elite colleges dismiss her, but a lot of people in the country like candidates who don’t like Washington and don’t speak with an affected accent.”
Another GOP senator, who endorsed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) early in the 2008 primary, argues Palin would face a lot of difficulty raising money. He said she had little appeal among the major fundraisers who made up McCain’s financial base.
“I don’t see her being a candidate in 2012,” said the lawmaker. “I don’t think she has the financial base to run. I don’t think she can convert the McCain fundraisers to her camp.
“You need to be able to raise $500 million or you’re not even in the game. That tends to thin out the field fairly quickly. It’s tough coming from a [small] state like Alaska.”
Palin’s political spokeswoman did not respond to request for comment.
For Monday’s high-profile fundraiser, NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) offered Palin a seat at his table and organizers discussed the possibility of her making an appearance on stage. But NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) objected to the arrangement, according to a source outside the NRCC but involved in planning the dinner.
Sessions may not have wanted Palin to overshadow former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who had raised a significant share of money for the multimillion-dollar dinner. The dinner organizers asked Gingrich to deliver the keynote address after they failed to nail down a firm commitment from Palin.
Palin’s team was offended that Republicans rescinded the offer to speak at the mega-event and threatened not to send the governor to the dinner, even though she was scheduled to be in Washington on Monday.
Meanwhile, Democratic strategists delighted over the confusion caused by the spat.
“Oh, to be a fly on the wall during the NRCC-NRSC dinner planning meetings,” quipped a senior House Democratic political aide.
Palin has shown herself to be a magnet for political drama since McCain tapped her as his running mate in August. This penchant for melodrama has left a bad taste among some members of the stately GOP Senate conference.
One GOP senator questioned whether Palin has enough gravitas for voters to trust her in tough economic times.
“If the economy implodes, I don’t see her as having much of a chance,” said the lawmaker, who noted that Palin’s national political ambitions have caused her political troubles at home. “She has also taken on water up there in Alaska.”