Palin’s Stevens Problem

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From TIME’s Nathan Thornburgh:

Plenty of observers noticed that it took two tries for Palin to actually come out and say Ted Stevens should resign. Less talked about were the reasons behind her reluctance.

It’s not that there’s any love lost between Palin and Stevens—they had some ties, but were not close. He’s more or less the kind of politician that she began been loudly maverick-ing against when she ran for governor (though Stevens did endorse and appear in an ad for Palin late in the race). But whereas she was always quick to publicly shame other Alaska politicians (like Rep. Don Young) when they were investigated or indicted or incarcerated, Palin has always been muted about Stevens.

Why such caution from the Barracuda? Because Stevens is still powerful. He could still win on Tuesday. And even if he doesn’t, his many fans in Alaska would remember if they felt like Palin was too eager to kick him while he’s down.

It’s a particularly tricky situation for Palin because unless something changes quickly in the presidential race, she may well have to settle for being governor again. Her approval rating in Alaska is still high, but it’s slipping fast, and she can’t afford to antagonize Stevens supporters–who include moderate Republicans outside of her smallish Christian conservative base. So the McCain campaign may pressure her to more consistently denounce Stevens, but something tells me her heart won’t be in it.