WASILLA, Alaska — At her hometown church in the mountain valleys of south-central Alaska, Sarah Palin’s star has dimmed recently.
In the small town of Wasilla on Sunday, some of the congregations that fueled her political rise years ago were weighing whether to support her bid for Alaska’s only congressional seat in the state’s special election and primary on Tuesday.
“Sarah is conservative, but she seems to be drawn more into the politics of politics than values,” said Scott Johannes, 59, a retired contractor who attends Wasilla Bible Church. He said he was undecided. “I think her influence now is from out of state,” he said.
But nearby, at another Wasilla church Ms. Palin attends, Joel Sanchez, 38, said he still believes Ms. Palin stands with Alaskans, even if she doesn’t always agree with the candidate’s sharp personality. Relatives and friends of Ms. Sanchez are torn over whether to support Ms. Palin’s candidacy for Congress, she said.
“I think they’re looking at her through a dirty lens,” said Ms. Sanchez, the pastor of Church on the Rock, who was leaning on Ms. Palin’s back. “I won’t vote until I do a little more research,” she added.
In churches and coffee shops, on the conservative airwaves and on right-wing social media, Alaska voters have debated Ms. Palin’s motives for a political comeback — whether she is interested in public service or seeking more publicity.
Ms. Palin, a former state governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, hit a hurdle in June when she led the field 48 candidates in special primary election to fill longtime Rep. Don Young’s seat Died in March As he went home. But she faces her next test Tuesday in a complex special election that will allow voters to rank their top choices.
Ms. Palin’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for interviews. In a lengthy interview with the Anchorage Daily News after she announced her run in April, Ms. Palin claimed she had not committed to Alaska.
“The establishment machine in the Republican Party is very, very, very small. His voice is loud. They hold the purse strings. They have the media’s ear. But they do not necessarily reflect the will of the people. Miss Palin told the newspaper.
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Former President Donald J. Ms. Palin, who won Trump’s endorsement, has learned of the challenges facing her, but pollsters say the uphill battle in November will be tough. Because of her low approval rating.
Many voters said they had left Alaska after Ms. Palin resigned from the governor’s office in 2009. Ethics complaints and legal bills. But Ms. Palin’s support is strong among other Republicans, including conservative women who have followed her political rise and seen themselves in her struggles as a working mother.
“She’s genuine, she’s authentic — what you see is what you get,” said TJ DeSpain, 51, an art therapist who attended an outdoor concert in Palmer and was drawn to Ms. Palin’s rock-star-like status. “She looks like Alaska Barbie.”
Ms. Palin faces several candidates in a special election to fill out the remainder of Mr. Young’s term. They include Mary Peltola, a Democrat who could become the first Alaska Native in Congress, and Nicholas Begich III, a Republican scion of the state’s most prominent Democratic political family. Tara Sweeney, a former Trump administration official, is running as a write-in candidate.
The special election, which will allow voters to rank their choices for the first time, coincides with the state’s nonpartisan primary election to fill House seats starting in 2023. In that race, voters are asked to choose from a list of 22 candidates from all parties and affiliated organizations, including Ms. Palin.
The new ranking system has rankled some Republicans who argue that it dilutes their vote. Ms Palin has encouraged supporters to rank her – and her alone.
Establishment Republicans have urged the party’s voters to rate Ms. Palin and Mr. Begich highly, fearing that could pave the way for Ms. Pelt, a Democrat, to victory. If either Mr. Begich or Ms. Peltola wins the special election, a victory for either would provide a major boost in momentum and name recognition.
In Wasilla and the nearby town of Palmer, many voters still remember the days when Ms. Palin competed in beauty queen pageants and starred on the high school basketball team. Some said they admired how she had lost her down-to-earth persona, even as her star rose, and how she always seemed ready to strike up a conversation at the local grocery store or Target.
And many haven’t forgotten 2008 either, when Ms. Palin burst onto the national stage as Senator John McCain’s running mate and seemed to take on a new and unrecognizable persona. Her anti-establishment language has since come to define the Republican Party, and other candidates have followed suit.
Some Alaskans see her status as a far-right celebrity as an asset, as do some callers to “The Mike Porcaro Show,” a conservative talk radio program. He argued that Ms. Palin would be able to draw attention to Alaska in a way that a lesser-known newcomer to Congress would not.
But her fame may have cost her support. “Now she likes to be in the limelight with all these brazen comments and things,” said Jim Jurgelitt, 64, a retired engineer who said he was voting for Ms. Peltola.
Ms. Palin is mostly on the reality TV circuit and has been campaigning for other Republicans out of state since resigning as governor. Some say she has spent more time on the conservative channel Newsmax or the lower 48 states than on the campaign trail. Janet Kincaid, 88, owner of the Colony Inn in Palmer, once Ms. Palin was running for governor, opened her lakeside home in Wasilla to a $20,000 fundraiser. Now, she prefers to talk about Mr. Begich, for whom she has hosted two fund-raisers.
“Frankly, I’m a strong supporter of Nick Begich,” she said. “I think he’d be better for the job.”
On Monday evening, Ms. Palin’s former father-in-law also visited his Wasilla home in Mr. Was organizing a fundraiser for Begich. Jim Palin, the father of Ms Palin’s ex-husband Todd, declined to comment on Ms Palin. But when asked why he was supporting his former daughter-in-law’s rival, he said, “He’ll stay in that job as long as we want him to.”
At a vintage car show in downtown Palmer, Richard Johnson showed off a 1963 Pontiac Grand Prix. He said he still saw Ms. Palin as a reflection of his old-school, conservative values and planned to vote for her. “She’s a quitter,” he added, “but at least she’s standing for something.”