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05.24.11

Is Sarah Palin Moving to Arizona?

Scottsdale is buzzing over reports the ex-governor has purchased a million-dollar ranch. Shushannah Walshe reports on the paper trail, what the neighbors think—and whether McCain's state will be Palin's 2012 base.

Plus, Andrew Sullivan: So You Thought Palin Wasn't Running?

It looks like Sarah from Alaska is now Sarah from Arizona. Word this week that Sarah Palin may have bought a home in Scottsdale, Arizona, sparked renewed speculation that she was leaving her home state for the lower 48—and possibly buying the property to base a presidential campaign out of the state. Two local television stations obtained video of what appear to be Todd and Sarah Palin outside the luxurious new digs.

Representatives from SarahPAC would not confirm whether the house is indeed Palin’s. But insiders have long acknowledged—and continue to do so in conversations—that Arizona would be a perfect place to set up camp, as distance and flying time make Alaska an impossible base for a 2012 presidential campaign.

Scottsdale was first reported by Politico’s Ben Smith in March as a possible home for a Palin campaign, and sources maintain that is still an option. If the former governor chooses not to jump into the race, it remains a good launching pad from which to hit the speaking circuit and, eventually, the trail for whomever she backs. Palin has her daughter Bristol in nearby Maricopa and has planted some roots in the desert since standing behind John McCain during his concession speech there in 2008.

Palin insiders say that although they are still working toward a presidential run, as The Daily Beast reported in September, they will not know until Sarah and Todd Palin make their decision. As with Palin’s decision to resign the governorship in 2009, her staff could learn of her intentions not long before the rest of the world finds out, they say.

In one sense, Arizona is where post-Alaska Palin began. It was at his Sedona ranch that John McCain took a chance after an hour-long meeting with the little-known governor and decided to put her on his ticket, instantly catapulting her to stardom and scrutiny. It was again in Sedona that Palin and her advisers hunkered down when debate prep in Philadelphia was not going well. It was there she was able to get comfortable and turn around what had looked like a disastrous face-off with Joe Biden. And it was in Arizona where she was blocked from giving a concession speech with McCain the night they lost the 2008 campaign.

Rebecca Feldman, who runs the Arizona chapter of Organizing for Palin, said she is “absolutely thrilled” at the thought of the Tea Party phenom moving into the neighborhood.

Since then, she has made many stops and speeches in the state, for both her book tours, for McCain’s campaign in March of last year, and for the Tea Party Express before the midterm elections. She also has a relationship with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and has been supportive of Brewer’s controversial immigration law. Brewer visited the Palins when she was in Alaska in March.

Of course Arizona is also the home of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, whose shooting—and Palin’s gun crosshairs imagery and subsequent “blood libel” statement—could leave lasting anger at the former governor in the community.

“There may be a backlash because of that terrible tragedy,” said David Berman, a political science professor at Arizona State University. “That may be a problem for her if she decides to associate with a state and sizable portions of the state don’t want her to be associated with the state.”

But Arizona-based Palin supporters and Tea Party members would heartily disagree, pointing to the huge crowds she pulls in to argue that Arizona would make a perfect second home and campaign base.

Rebecca Feldman, who runs the Arizona chapter of Organizing for Palin, said she is “absolutely thrilled” at the thought of the Tea Party phenom moving into the neighborhood and says she is “ready to go” if Palin announces a 2012 run.

“Should she run for president, we’ll be ready to be the boots on the ground if she needs us,” Feldman told The Daily Beast.

Honey Marques, founder of the Scottsdale Tea Party Patriots, called Palin’s speech in Ohio, when she was unveiled to the country, a “transformative” experience.

“Living in her backyard would be a nice treat,” Marques said. “I personally would do everything in my free time, anything I can do to support her presidential run if she does choose to run.”

Palin “electrified” the crowd at a Phoenix event in October, though she only spoke for a few minutes, said Levi Russell, communications director of the Tea Party Express. “One thing about when Sarah Palin makes an appearance, whether you like her or her or you don’t, you can’t deny she’s one of the most energizing and exciting figures in politics,” he said.

But Palin’s potential new neighbors may not be so pleased if she moves, even if they do catch a glimpse of her running in the dry heat she has said she enjoys. Jeff Sibbach, a real-estate agent in the Scottsdale area who deals with homes similar to the rumored Palin property, said most of the neighbors have moved to the secluded area to live in a quiet district, and they could be upset by the press and traffic the Palins may bring along with them.

Sibbach went to see the property earlier this week and said a young man with Alaska license plates asked him to leave the area, but not before he saw jungle gym equipment being erected in the back of the home. Sibbach described the house, which is on a dirt road, as an 8,000-square-foot, 4.5-acre ranch property with billiard and theater rooms. Other photos posted online show a luxurious mansion with a large pool and renovated rooms.

The Arizona Republic, which broke the Palin property news, reported that Safari Investments LLC, a Delaware-based limited liability firm formed the day before the deal closed on May 12, paid $1.695 million cash for the home. Delaware doesn’t require names to be listed on the filing, allowing the owners to maintain privacy. Still, The Alaska Dispatch noted that the Palins’ vacation home in Alaska is on Safari Lake. Reached by The Daily Beast and asked whether the home belongs to the Palins, Phoenix-based attorney Alan Kierman, listed as the contact for Safari Investments, said he could not comment.

Speculation has been so rife that Palin would move to Arizona that rumors were flying that the former governor would mount a bid for retiring Republican Jon Kyl’s Senate seat. But Palin insiders laugh off that idea, saying it is clear she has her eye on bigger things, not to mention that she is closely identified with her home state, though her poll numbers there have fallen recently. As for Arizona, a Public Policy Polling survey in February put Palin’s favorability there at 39 percent, while 57 percent of those surveyed had a negative opinion. The poll found that Palin would trail Obama by a 49/41 margin in the red state. Against the other potential 2012 Republican candidates, she came in third, tying with Newt Gingrich at 15 percent, behind Mitt Romney with 23 percent and Mike Huckabee with 19 percent.

Shushannah Walshe covers politics for The Daily Beast. She is the co-author of Sarah From Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar. She was a reporter and producer at the Fox News Channel from August 2001 until the end of the 2008 presidential campaign.