A lot of factors, including good timing, went in to the phenomenon that is Sarah Palin, said Clive Thomas, professor of political science in Juneau.
And one of those factors, he said, was a reaction tinged by racism following the election of the nation's first black president.
"Would Sarah Palin be where she is today if we didn't have a black president?" Thomas asked.
Thomas, a political science professor at University of Alaska Southeast, spoke Friday evening at a packed Evening at Egan lecture. As one of the state's few academics studying state politics, Thomas has been invited to speak on Palin around the world, but Friday was his first presentation locally on the Palin phenomenon.
How big a role racism may have played in the public opposition to President Barack Obama is difficult to judge, Thomas said, because racist views are notoriously difficult to sample with telephone polling.
Thomas predicted that there would be no lessening of interest in Palin two years from her historic run for the vice-presidency. And while he pointedly declined to predict what Palin would do personally, he said Tuesday's national elections are likely to leave her the Republican frontrunner for the 2012 presidential race.
Despite public ridicule of Palin among a segment of the population, there's ardent support among a significant portion of the population as well, he said. If Palin handles that well and the right factors come together, there's a possibility that the much-mocked former governor could wind up with the nomination.
"It's not beyond the realm of possibility," he said.
The structure of the nomination process favors Palin, he said, with Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary followed by Super Tuesday. That groups states in which Palin is likely to do well early in the delegate gathering process.
The key to the predicted Republican frontrunner status is the likely success of Palin-endorsed tea party candidates Tuesday, Thomas said.
"She is very good at going and supporting people, rallying people, and then she is able to get credit for their wins," he said.
That could include Alaska's U.S. Senate race, thought it's hard to tell how much of an influence Palin had.
"There's a natural assumption that she made a difference," he said.
A key to Palin's support nationally are the passion of her supporters, and a changed media landscape that allows her to remain relevant without taking questions from any but supportive interviewers.
In years past, Thomas said, a candidate who made Palin-like misstatements and blunders would not be considered a credible candidate. And Facebook and Twitter allow Palin to communicate with supporters without risking a back and forth discussion.
"We haven't heard the last of Sarah Palin," he said.
Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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