I have spent a good deal of time speaking to a number of political leaders in the state of Alaska. This includes people at the Federal level, in the Governor's office, and on both sides of the political fence in the state legislature.
I can report that Governor Sarah Palin will be running in a special election for the US Senate seat currently held by long term Republican US Senator Ted Stevens.
There are two events that first must happen to make this possible. First, the final count of this week's election for US Senator must come in (as of Thursday there were tens of thousands of votes yet to be counted) and Ted Stevens must win this election. He is ahead and it is widely considered that he will be re-elected when all the votes are counted. Secondly, the United States Senate must refuse to seat him. This also is expected to take place as he has been convinced on seven felony counts for corruption. He is expected to appeal his conviction and he may win this appeal, but it will take at least several months for any appeal to proceed in the courts. In the meantime the Democratic controlled Senate will not allow a convinced felon to take the oath of office.
The procedure for filling US Senate vacancies depends on state law. Most states allow for either the Governor to appoint a replacement or for the state legislature to elect a replacement. Usually the replacement serves part of two years and then has to run in the next general election for the remaining two or four years in the six year term. Some states allow the Governor to make the appointment only if the state legislature is not in session.
Alaska law requires the Governor to call a special election and for the person elected at that election to serve the full remainder of the six year term. Which in this case will be almost the full six years. State law in Alaska does allow, but does not require, the Governor to appoint a Senator for the 30 to 60 day period between the vacancy and the certification of the person elected at the special election. There is however some legal question over this provision, but it appears that she does have the right to appoint a short term replacement Senator pending the special election. The "Trust the People Initiative" in 2004 changed Alaska law to require a special election in the case of federal vacancies. The state legislature amended this to allow for a temporary 30-60 day appointed US Senator, with the thinking being that the state should not be without full representation in the US Senate during the special election. However, there is some question if the legislature can amend the initiative. The US Senate is apt to accept anyone with credentials from the Governor based on existing law for the short term appointment.
Sarah Palin is not announcing her intentions to become a US Senator at present, and in fact her press secretary will not speak on the issue of her running. But she will be running for the office with the intention of having a lot of public "face time" as a US Senator. Look for her to be the front running candidate for US President against Barack Obama in 2012. We will be seeing a lot more of Sarah Palin in the next four years. This Sarah Palin will be free of the McCain campaign staff and will be able to use her powerful public speaking abilities to their fullest extent. Look for her to make appearances throughout America on behalf of state and local GOP candidates during the next four years, as well as on behalf of a rebuilding GOP effort in the US House and Senate in 2010.
My high level Alaska sources tell me that she will not appoint herself as the temporary US Senator. That it would look bad and would require her to vacate the Governor's office. Since her public approval has fallen a bit in Alaska during her run for the Vice-Presidency, it is not an totally sure thing that she will be able to win the US Senate seat and she will not want to lose her Governor's office in the event she were to lose the special election for US Senator.
I also understand that she will not appoint her husband to the US Senate for the 30-60 interim appointment, no doubt a tempting opportunity but one that could have a negative effect on her election bid. There have been cases of Governors appointing their spouses for short term US Senate openings before in American history. I am told that she is likely not to appoint anyone for the 30-60 day period, using the legal uncertainly as an excuse.
With a new six year US Senate term and lots of high profile national exposure, Sarah Palin will have come out of the 2008 election a winner. One well set to be the GOP leader in America for the next four years.