(photo credit: AP / The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, Robert Deberr)
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin abruptly announced Friday she will resign from office at the end of the month, in a shocking move that rattled the Republican party but left open the possibility she would seek a run for the White House in 2012.
Palin, 45, and her staff, kept her future plans shrouded in mystery, and it was unclear if the controversial self-proclaimed "hockey mom" would quietly return to private life or begin laying the foundation for a presidential bid.
Palin's spokesman, David Murrow, said the governor didn't say anything to him about this being her "political finale." He said he interpreted Palin's comment about working outside government as reflecting her current job only.
"She's looking forward to serving the public outside the governor's chair," he said.
And Pam Pryor, a spokeswoman for Palin's political action committee SarahPAC, said the group continues to accept donations on its Web site, with an uptick in funds after Palin's announcement.
The announcement caught even current and former Palin advisers by surprise. Former members of the John McCain campaign team, now dispersed across the country, traded perplexed e-mails and phone calls.
In a hastily arranged news conference at her home in suburban Wasilla, Palin said she will formally step down July 26, and Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell will be inaugurated at the governor's picnic in Fairbanks. She said she had decided against running for re-election as Alaska's governor, and believed it was best to leave office even though she had well over a year left to her term.
"Many just accept that lame duck status, and they hit that road. They draw a paycheck. They kind of milk it. And I'm not going to put Alaskans through that," she said. Palin said she held a "vote" among her family members regarding whether she should step down and "after four yeses and one 'hell-yeah!' " it was clear to her that this was the right course of action.
The 2008 vice presidential nominee was seen as a likely presidential contender in 2012 and had proved formidable among the party's base. But the last week brought a highly critical piece in Vanity Fair magazine, with unnamed campaign aides questioning if Palin was ever really prepared for the presidency. The backbiting continued with follow-up articles recounting the nasty infighting that plagued her failed bid. Her advisers sniped with other Republicans, underscoring the deeply divided GOP looking for its next standard bearer.
Meghan Stapleton, Palin's personal spokeswoman, shot down speculation that ranged wildly from Palin dropping out of politics altogether to eyeing runs against fellow Alaska Republicans US Rep. Don Young and U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Palin's comment about serving outside government refers to the present, she said.
Stapleton, however, said it's too early to say whether Palin would seek the presidency. In the meantime, the governor will continue to work "toward affecting positive change as a citizen without a title right now," she said.
"Her vision is what's best for Alaska, which translates into what's best for America," Stapleton said.
Palin's resignation, timed on the eve of the July 4 holiday when many Americans had already begun a three-day weekend, seemed designed to avoid publicity. She alluded to how she could help change the country and help military members - code that she didn't think her time on the national stage was over.
One senior Palin adviser, who spoke to the family in recent days, described the governor and her husband as tired of the constant media scrutiny. Nevertheless, the adviser was shocked to hear Palin's announcement Friday.
A longtime confidant who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, the adviser counseled the Palins that leaving government was politically unwise, but the governor was resolute.
Though the announcement touched off a flurry of speculation among Democrats and Alaska political bloggers that Palin had been drawn into one of the many criminal investigations that have upended Alaska politics in recent years, the adviser reported seeing no evidence of such an investigation and said if one is under way, then Palin has kept it to herself and it would be yet another surprise to supporters.