WASHINGTON -- The decision by Sarah Palin to either deliberately or accidentally step on Mitt Romney's presidential campaign announcement Thursday underscores a defining trait of the former Alaska Governor: she feels no allegiance to others inside the GOP tent.
Hours before Romney announced he was making a White House run in a New Hampshire speech, Palin talked to reporters in his home-base of Massachusetts, criticizing the health care law he had implemented. Later this evening, she traveled to New Hampshire herself, sucking up some of the precious space for political coverage.
It is the type of move that suggests brewing frictions inside a still-developing GOP presidential field -- a paradigm that the Democratic National Committee was more than happy to promote with a cartoonish video showing Palin's bus running Romney over.
It also illustrates a streak of independence -- if not subtle ingratitude -- on Palin's part. Romney, after all, played a not wholly insignificant role in helping elevate Palin's political career in the first place.
Two years before she was tapped by John McCain to serve as the Republican vice presidential candidate, Palin was in a rough run for the governor's chair of Alaska. After emerging as the Republican candidate, she entered a general election campaign against former two-term Governor Tony Knowles facing a potentially problematic fundraising disparity.
Into the void stepped Romney. As the head of the Republican Governor's Association in 2006, he poured thousands of dollars into airing pro-Palin (or anti-Knowles) television ads in the state. The money helped turn a close election into an easy-to-breath victory. But it wasn't without controversy. Democrats in the state alleged that Palin's campaign and the RGA illegally coordinated on one of the ads – an allegation that tarnished the clean-government platform on which she was running.
In his book “Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin: A Memoir of Our Tumultuous Years,” Frank Bailey, a former top aide to Palin, devotes a lot of space to episode. He notes that well before the controversial ad, the Palin campaign was being called by RGA officials with news that they would spend big money on the race.
"There were thirty-six gubernatorial contests to be decided in November 2006, and in a media market as inexpensive as Alaska, the RGA, chaired at the time by Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, felt that it could influence the race for governor," he writes.
"[An RGA official] mentioned a dollar amount that went into the hundreds of thousands. For a campaign that once had a four-way debate about whether or not to splurge on a $360 newspaper ad, we were suddenly staring at what seemed like an absurd amount of money."
Palin, he writes, initially refused to work with the RGA, proclaiming: "our campaign can have NO participation in any 3rd party campaign efforts."
Over time, however, Bailey insists, her opposition waned. Ivy Frye, a fellow campaign worker, told Bailey that he had arranged a meeting between Palin and Romney, along with Gov. Matt Blunt of Missouri to discuss the race. After that, Kris Perry, a Palin confidant, sent the following email to the soon-to-be Governor.
"Had a nice conversation w/ Governor Romney. He'd like to speak with you directly and we'll try to make that happen in the next day or so. He's traveling in the morning but will give me a call once he reaches his destination. Bottom line: they are very interested in the Governor's race and are supportive of your candidacy."
Two months after she first demanded no coordination, Palin, Bailey wrote, allowed the RGA to both shoot footage of her with her knowledge and air that footage.
"Technically, perhaps we didn't coordinate with the Republican Governors Association to be at the locations shown in the TV commercial, but once there, we absolutely and positively coordinated with the RGA in filming it," he wrote. "No matter how our side spun the words, in this instance we proved ourselves to be penniless morally."
Palin's defenders steadfastly refute Bailey's recollection of events, mostly by insisting that he has provided no compelling, third party evidence, to confirm that she allowed RGA cameras to shoot footage. Whether the Alaska Governor, moreover, should feel some sense of gratitude to Romney for his help in all this seems like a bit much to ask. Even when the RGA was airing its ads, Palin's relationship with the then Massachusetts Governor was hardly tight.
"During the campaign for governor, when Mitt Romney was the Republican Governors Association [chair], Sarah didn't even have a clear idea who he was," Bailey writes in the book. "As she wrote after the gubernatorial election, 'I argued with Frank and others, as I insisted his name was MILT, not Mitt."
Still, Romney plays a re-occurring role in the 2006 gubernatorial campaign, calling up Palin's office the night of the election to say things were looking good. And the contrast between the help he offered her during her run for governor and the nonchalance she showed to the launch of his second presidential campaign is hard to ignore.
This article originally misidentified Matt Blunt, the governor of Missouri in 2006, as Roy Blunt, who is Matt's father and current Missouri senator.