Simultaneously praised and spurned as a Republican Party “outsider” since her rough-and-tumble debut as GOP 2008 Presidential nominee Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) running mate, Sarah Palin now enjoys a smiling head shot emblazoned across the home page of the Republican National Committee website. In an unusual turn of events, the RNC recently announced both the former one-term Alaska Governor and the current party Chair Michael Steele will be teaming up at two major Republican fundraisers scheduled in California and Florida.
Both plan to headline one event in Anaheim, California on October 16th and Orlando, Florida on October 23rd. While the move is seen as unusual given recent history and the perception of mismatched political chemistry between the two, it’s also being seen as a carefully calculated move designed to meet multiple objectives for both Palin and Steele. And, some within the GOP are hoping that having a White woman and a Black man on the road at large scale events will help soften the party’s image for 2010 and 2012 as it seeks to attract more female and minority voters.
Many observers have speculated that Palin is gradually building up an infrastructure for a major political comeback as Presidential candidate in 2012. Even though many polls view her as nationally polarizing, she is still highly regarded as a no-nonsense ideological standard-bearer by the GOP’s conservative base. And while the Republican party establishment has dismissed her as a rabble-rousing independent who places too much focus on growing the Tea Party, Palin is still seen as a force to be reckoned with. Palin earned $12 million from book sales and also draws up to $100,000 per speech.
Steele’s alliance with Palin could help the embattled RNC Chair rally support for his planned re-election bid in 2011. Many GOP party insiders have already expressed dissatisfaction with Steele’s performance, and his future as Chair hinges on electoral outcomes in this November’s Congressional midterm and in state-level gubernatorial races. Forging an alliance with Palin could help Steele mend differences with the very conservative, Tea Party-driven wing of his party, offering support when called upon.
“Regardless of what the polls and political scuttlebutt state for Michael Steele’s tenure at the RNC, his ability to forge an alliance with the most popular Republican out there in the grassroots, and Republicans’ ability to take over Congress in November, will make him harder to defeat,” said Lenny McAllister, host of WVON-AM Chicago’s Launching Chicago with Lenny McAllister in comments to Politic365.com. “Should he push for re-election, a Palin-Steele alliance will further his name with the grassroots, the donors, and the members of the RNC during that vote in January.”
Still, there are reports that the fundraising alliance is part of an unprecedented deal between the RNC and Palin to pay her legal bills from the failed 2008 Presidential campaign. Those familiar with the situation claim Palin and Steele had been wrangling over payments for months, as the deal was made by Steele’s predecessor Robert Duncan. The Washington Times recently uncovered a check made out to Palin’s attorneys at the Anchorage law firm of Clapp, Peterson, Van Flein, Tiemessen & Thorsness in the amount of $128,518.85 to pay billable hours charged while fending off ethics allegations during her time as Governor and a Vice Presidential nominee. When asked by the Times what the check was for, RNC Treasurer Randy Pullen – who co-signed it with RNC Chief Administrative Officer Boyd Rutherford – stated it was in exchange for Palin’s help with party fundraising.
“The initial payment was for Palin to do several different fundraising events and sign fundraising letters for the RNC,” Mr. Pullen told the Times. The next check will be in the amount of $257,037.50.
Despite the innuendo, many party activists and officials believe the fundraising effort will do much good as Republican candidates reach the final stretch this electoral cycle. “This is about us winning on November 2nd,” says Tim Johnson, Vice-Chair of the North Carolina GOP and Founder of the Frederick Douglass Foundation in comments to Politic365.com. “Bringing two groups together that have not been on the same accord for some time is a good, thing and puts us on the path to victory. We need not argue about the things we disagree on, but [should] talk about the things we do agree on.”