Alaska Governor Sarah Palin stunned political observers 3 July when she announced her intention to resign from office. The controversial governor, whom Republican presidential nominee John McCain selected to become his running mate in 2008, is believed to be a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

Alaskans Surprised

"Most Alaskans were shocked. It was a bombshell," said Jerry McBeath, Professor of Political Science at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. "She is a sitting governor, who is still popular, who is unlikely to resign without anything else, clearly in mind."

Palin started off as a highly popular governor in Alaska. "She had an approval rating of close to 90%, which is unprecedented here," said Beath. "She was the most popular governor we'd ever had." 

The Price of Fame

Following the national campaign, Palin faced growing criticism, especially from Democrats, that she was neglecting state concerns in order to pursue her national political ambitions.

"She faced very rough sledding," said McBeath. "And the campaign changed her as well. She had difficulty putting up with the rough criticism that is normal in a national campaign, but is unusual in a sparsely populated state like Alaska."

Palin was also perceived to be traveling a great deal, often to the so-called "lower 48," or the contiguous United States. Some legislators said she hadn't been seen much at the Alaska state capital in Juneau.

"The governor hasn't really lived very long in the governor's mansion in Juneau, she has maintained her home in Wasilla," said McBeath. "She does more of her business in Anchorage than she does in Juneau." 

Glare of the Spotlight

Palin was highly criticized following some of her television interviews in 2008. Her opponents said she was uninformed about national and international issues.

Her family also received wide media coverage as well. Her daughter Bristol is an unmarried teenaged mother. Her infant son Trig has Down Syndrome.  Palin recently feuded with television comedian David Letterman, after he joked about one of her daughters. The newest issue of Vanity Fair magazine contains an article that includes criticism of Palin by former McCain staffers. 

But McCain defended his decision to choose Palin as his vice presidential nominee. He said she "energized the base," namely, conservative Republicans. Palin won rave reviews from Republicans following her acceptance speech at the party's national nominating convention, when she characterized herself as a "hockey mom" in "lipstick." Her campaign appearances generated large crowds from people looking for new conservative leadership.

Political observers say her popularity with conservatives gives her a good base for any political ambitions she may have. But they are also in a quandary about her resignation as governor, saying it poses more questions than answers about her future.