Only two people have debated Joe Biden in a presidential campaign: Donald Trump, in 2020, and Sarah Palin, in 2008, when she and Biden were both running for vice president of the United States. Sarah Palin supported Trump in the Alaska primary in 2016, when not many believed he could make it to the White House; now Trump is returning the favor, and he is her biggest asset in what could be her last chance to hold an elected office in Washington.
Palin, 58, is after Alaska’s only congressional seat in the House of Representatives at the November 8 midterm elections. In 2008, she resigned as governor of Alaska after losing the presidential elections with John McCain, who had chosen her as his running mate to attract female voters disappointed by Barack Obama’s victory against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries.
After resigning, Palin published her memoirs, worked as a commentator with several TV networks and had her own record-breaking show in Alaska. She continued to support the conservative ideals of the Tea Party, a movement which many see as the precursor of the radicalization of the Republican Party and the rise of Trump. And attended, as a guest star, the great right-wing festival of the Conservative Political Action Conference, of which Trump is now the undisputed idol.
A mother of five and grandmother of eight, Palin divorced her high school boyfriend in 2019, to whom she was married for 31 years. Her former in-laws have said that, although they adore their grandchildren, they will vote for Begich. Although it is a decidedly Republican state, Palin does not have it easy. She is competing against her Democrat friend Mary Peltola, against her Republican enemy Nick Begich III and against a preferential voting system that penalizes divisive personalities such as hers: each voter ranks all the candidates they support and, if no one secures the support of 50%, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, with their votes going to the second choice of those who voted for them. This goes on until one candidate achieves a majority vote.
Palin has complained bitterly about a method she has described as “bizarre” and “convoluted”: “It doesn’t matter if you win by getting the most votes. Really, it matters if you have more second- and third-place votes,” she stated a few months ago. This was proven last August, when a special election was held for Alaska’s seat in the House of Representatives – for only four months – after the death of Republican Don Young, who had the seat for 50 years. The Republican division, as well as the strong support for Mary Peltola as the second choice of those who voted for Nick Begich III, gave the Democrats their first victory in half a century.
The election on Tuesday is practically a repetition of the August one. Begich has relentlessly criticized Palin, saying that she is not a true Alaskan and that she only wants to regain her lost popularity. Palin meanwhile is warning that a vote for Begich could allow a Democrat to “slip on through,” thanks to the preferential voting system. “I love Mary Peltola. As a friend, I love her dearly. She’s a sweetheart. She’s wonderful – but this is a deep red state,” she said. To stop this from happening, Palin has been campaigning on the street, speaking in person with voters. She is hoping that this work, combined with Trump’s endorsement and the support of evangelicals, will help her cinch victory and make up for her August loss – and, in a way, the 2008 defeat too.
Almost everything that could go wrong with that campaign, did. The whole mess served as the plot for the movie Game Change, with Julianne Moore in the role of Palin. McCain’s team blamed Palin for the Republican defeat, even though the senator himself stood up for her. In an interview, she was unable to name any newspaper she read. She fell for the prank of a radio comedian who pretended to be Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France at the time. She spent tens of thousands of campaign dollars on clothing for herself and her family. She also had to deal with the pregnancy of her teenage daughter, Bristol.
Her most famous quote is “I can see Russia from my house,” but she never really said that. That was Tina Fey in a Saturday Night Live parody. What Palin actually said in an interview, regarding the proximity to that country, was: “They’re our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.” She was not lying: on clear days, from the Diomede Islands (one Russian and one American), you can see Russia from Alaska. However, it made her look ridiculous. Nonetheless, she also said that Obama’s weak response to Russia’s invasion of Georgia (he was senator at the time) would encourage Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine if the Democrat was elected. When Russia seized Crimea in 2014, she tried to vindicate herself, posting on Facebook: “Yes, I could see this one from Alaska. I’m usually not one to Told-Ya-So, but I did.”
The McCain team that trained her for the debate with Biden leaked that in the previous sessions she referred to Africa as a country and not a continent. She replied that those comments had been taken out of context. A few months ago, at a Conservative conference, she complained that the team had “shackles” on her.