WASHINGTON — As Sarah Palin’s public opinion numbers slump to such depths that a new survey suggests even Charlie Sheen would get more votes from independents than she would, the former Alaska governor is heading to Israel this weekend to sit down with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Palin is embarking upon her first trip to the country following months of criticizing U.S. President Barack Obama’s policies on Israel. Her most recent barb came earlier this week, when she slammed his handling of a recent Palestinian terror attack in the West Bank.
“As Israel makes concessions (and is still criticized by the Obama administration), Arab leaders are just sitting back waiting for the White House to further pressure Israel,” she wrote on her Facebook page, her primary mode of communication.
“It’s time for President Obama to push the reset button on our relations with our ally Israel.”
Palin will meet with Netanyahu and visit various holy sites with her husband, Todd, on her way back from India, where she’s delivering a speech on her vision for America.
Her visit to Israel comes two months after she found herself in hot water with Jewish groups for using the term “blood libel” when raging against her critics in the aftermath of the assassination attempt of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona.
“Blood libel” is a reference to a false, centuries-old allegation that Jews killed children so they could use their blood for religious rituals. The national director of the U.S. Anti-Defamation League said at the time that he wished Palin had chosen “another phrase, instead of one so fraught with pain in Jewish history.”
That episode seems long forgotten as Palin says she’s “thankful” to be able to travel to Israel.
“As the world confronts sweeping changes and new realities, I look forward to meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss the key issues facing his country, our ally Israel,” she said in a statement posted to her website on Thursday.
Although Palin, 47, hasn’t said yet whether she’s running for president, two of her biggest would-be rivals for the Republican nomination in 2012 — Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney — have also made recent jaunts to Israel.
But her high-profile visits come at an inauspicious time for Palin, who quit her job as Alaska governor a year after Republican John McCain chose her as his vice-presidential running mate in the summer of 2008.
A series of new polls suggest her popularity is sinking even among the Republicans who once viewed her as the party’s energetic guiding light.
A Washington Post-ABC News survey found that for the first time in their polling, fewer than six in 10 Republicans and conservative-leaning independents see Palin favourably. That’s a significant drop from a sky-high 88 per cent in the days following the 2008 Republican National Convention and 70 per cent in October.
Another poll on Thursday suggests that more of America’s powerful bloc of independent voters would cast their ballots for the troubled Sheen than they would for Palin.
In self-described “frivolous” survey done by a Democratic-leaning pollster late last week, only 36 per cent of independents said they’d vote for Palin, compared to 41 per cent for Sheen, if given the option to cast ballots in such an unlikely showdown.
By comparison, Obama would crush Sheen 57-22 among the same group of independent voters surveyed by Public Policy Polling officials, who confessed on Twitter “we may have set a new bar of frivolity.”
A recent Des Moines Register survey also found that Palin’s popularity had slipped six points in the past 18 months.
Palin hasn’t travelled to Iowa, a key primary state, and has opted against attending several high-profile Republican events in recent months, moves that have befuddled the sea of political pundits who have been trying to read the tea leaves to see if she’s running for president.
And yet new rumours are swirling in the state of Arizona that Palin may make a bid for the seat of retiring Republican senator Jon Kyl instead of running for the White House.
Palin’s oldest daughter, Bristol, recently bought a home in suburban Arizona, and a pair of Republican strategists believe the speculation could be true.
“We believe it has legs,” Ford O’Connell, who heads Civic Forum PAC, and the organization’s co-founder, Steve Pearson, wrote on the Daily Caller website on Thursday.
“This is a path well-blazed by nationally renowned politicians with senatorial ambitions, and it is quite common for folks to relocate to Arizona to start over,” they wrote. “Assuming Palin can meet the residency requirements, the southwest might be fertile ground for her brand of politics.”
They argue Palin’s only real competition would come from Giffords, still recovering the attempt on her life in January, if she opts to run for the seat. Giffords had expressed interest in the Senate before she was shot in the head during the Tucson attack that killed six and left 19 wounded.
Giffords’ shooting, in fact, spurred fierce criticism of Palin for using gun imagery in some of her political messaging, especially given the Arizona congresswoman herself had once chastised her for it. That in turn resulted in Palin’s rant about “blood libel.”
The events are thought to have contributed to Palin’s decreasing popularity in public opinion polls over the past several weeks.
It’s not unusual for a national politician to parachute into another state to make a run for the U.S. Senate. Hillary Clinton, now U.S. secretary of state, did it when she moved to New York and ran for a Senate seat more than a decade ago.
Nonetheless, the notion of Sen. Sarah Palin from Arizona has irked the Arizona Democratic Party.
“Help us send a strong message that Arizona should not be a stepping stone for extremist politicians and their radical agendas,” said Luis Heredia, the state party’s executive director, in a recent fundraising appeal to voters.