Sarah Palin is taking one heckuva gamble. Weeks after the Letterman controversy, Palin, who’d been continuously battling frivolous ethics complaints in Alaska, resigned her governorship to as she put it, “affect positive change outside government, at this moment in time, on another scale.

It’s the “on another scale” comment that fascinates me. As we’ve seen, Palin’s resignation has evoked a wide array of reactions, but here’s my favorite assessment (from the LA Times) which combines bits of both the positive and negative camps:

Wow. I didn’t see that coming. But I have to say I think it’s a great chess move on her part. Honestly, if only Palin’s intellectual abilities matched her political instincts she would be truly formidable.

Don’t misunderestimate her. While there’s been plenty of talk about possible 2012 ambitions, the discussion oftentimes misses one important interceding event: the midterms, a point which didn’t become glaringly obvious to me until this little tidbit came out of the Washington Times.

“I will go around the country on behalf of candidates who believe in the right things, regardless of their party label or affiliation,” she said over lunch in her downtown office, 40 miles from her now-famous hometown of Wasilla — population 7,000 — where she began her political career.

Sarah Palin should run for Congress. All of it. And that may actually be her plan.

Imagine a midterm election and its historically low turnout (29% to 60% for Midterms vs. 48% to 78% for Presidential years). Imagine an agitated conservative base after two years of Obamanomics and a wary public likely concerned about the economy and the government’s leftward tilt. Now imagine a full-time crowd-raising money-machine candidate without a national office to run for, with a free hand to back Democrats and Republicans — many of whom will no doubt invite her in — and a grudge against just about everyone, including many “party insiders” over whom she’d love to lord a few Palin-powered victories. Like I said when the NRCC revoked its fundraiser speaking offer to her in June,

if you hear an ominous “squeeaaaak” echoing across the halls of Congress, that’s the sound of Palin-affilliated money spickets shutting off all over the country.

That money’s Palin’s alone to access now, assuming she commits to the cause I’m contemplating here and amasses a few Ron Paul-styled money bombs… unconstrained, of course, by the fundraising caps of traditional candidates. She doesn’t have to win states. She has to win districts, a great many of which are quite friendly to her. While she may say she’ll back anyone, by and large she’ll be backing GOP challengers and vulnerable incumbants.

And it’s a good political move, too. There are lots of districts where she can help, especially in an off-election year, whose candidates, if they win, will be quite grateful for her assistance. Based on the 2008 election, I count at least 19 seats that went narrowly for Democrats and could go narrowly, or better, for Republicans with enough nudging and some good candidates:

Between Palin and the NRCC, the Republican Party could make some definite plays here, ideally meaning that the NRCC can devote more time to finding candidates for districts outside the 2008 narrow-loss band. It’s the double-edged sword of the NRCC’s Palin situation; the list of GOP-accessible seats may go up with Palin’s intervention, but its power to compete for the hearts of those GOP delegates, and thus maintain its current power structure, will probably be compromised by their inability to get at her donors or control her messaging.

That doesn’t mean I think Palin would run for President in 2012, or that she should. Getting back into the electoral mix too early could doom any higher aspirations for good, and whether Palinistas like it or not, she’s not ready to head up the GOP ticket, at least in so far as the Palin political climate is concerned. The fact that she could play the role of king- or queenmaker in some pivotal Congressional districts would go a long way to securing her hold as a player within the GOP while putting time between herself and her 2008-caricatured-Tina-Fey-pop-culture self. Palinistas should want her stronger if and when she runs again for higher office, and there are ways to make that happen. For example, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her throw her support behind someone like Mitt Romney — two decades her elder and himself a very strong fundraiser — allowing the GOP to rebrand, recover, and reorient while keeping Palin every bit as relevant. If Romney wins following a positive 2010 midterm, it’ll be Palin running in 2020, and stronger than ever, probably with a significant chuck of Romney donors to go along with her own. So far those camps have been discrete groups. She needs to merge them. Eventually. And this is one way to make that happen.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking that the next one, three, or more years will play out this orderly. (Okay, maybe it’s a lot of wishful thinking.) But while Palin’s resignation certainly risks her own personal ambitions for higher office, it also opens up her hand to do the some of the free-wheeling, unfiltered campaigning she couldn’t do last year, with the prime beneficiary the center-right cause. If Palin wants to strengthen her political future, I can’t think of a better way to do it.

Update: A lot of talk in the comments [to the Greenroom post] about whether Palin would support Romney. The video below is from before the end of the Republican primaries. I welcome your thoughts.

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