Aside from John McCain giving Sarah Palin a pretty nice shout-out during his concession speech Tuesday, the apparent re-election of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens could hand her political career a golden opportunity.


With 96 percent of precincts reporting, Stevens held a slight lead over his Democratic opponent, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, 48 to 46 percent. But as of 5 a.m. eastern time, the race hadn’t been called.


If, after all the remaining ballots are counted, Stevens does hold onto his slim lead over Begich, he isn’t likely to last long into his new term. The likelihood is that Stevens—who was convicted on corruption charges less than two weeks ago—would either resign his senate seat, or face expulsion from his fellow senators. A two-thirds vote in the senate would force Stevens out.


In that case Alaska law calls for a special election to fill the vacant senate seat, and whoever won the special election would have a full six year term ahead of them.


So is there any reason Sarah Palin wouldn’t pounce on the opportunity? Actually, there is, according to Carl Shepro, political science professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage.


Shepro says the presidential campaign has meant a big hit to Palin’s approval ratings in Alaska. Her favorability has dropped from the mid-80’s to the mid-60’s in just a few months. That would mean Palin would be far from a shoo-in for a senate seat.


And he notes that if Palin were to turn around and immediately run for the senate, she risks a backlash from Alaskans who might see it as an attempt to get out of the state and back onto the national stage.


“I think it would probably do a lot to dim the luster she has earned here in Alaska,” Shepro says.


Still, it could be a smart move for Palin, assuming she can win the seat. If the governor is looking to 2012, the lack of national experience is obviously the biggest hole in her resume.


As to how Alaskans could vote to reelect Stevens after his recent convictions, Shepro says “How can you not elect your uncle?”

*UPDATE: A reader emails from South Carolina to point out that Palin would get lots of financial and grassroots help from conservatives, like him, across the country were she to run for Senate. Given her popularity dip in Alaska, though, I wonder if that would create a backlash in her home state.


Shane D’Aprile is web editor at Politics magazine.