WASHINGTON -- In the hours leading up to the Senate's confirmation Tuesday of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of health and human services, the president's final Cabinet pick had a passive but potent opponent: fellow governor Sarah Palin.
The Republican Alaska governor didn't outright oppose Sebelius, a Democrat whose duties will include overhauling the country's healthcare system and overseeing the response to swine flu.
But the Alaska governor also said nothing while her supporters on Team Sarah, a Web site affiliated with an anti-abortion group, worked the phones in an effort to derail Sebelius' nomination because she favors abortion rights. The Senate confirmed Sebelius anyway, 65-31.
Team Sarah — primarily a social networking Web site — is overseen by the Susan B. Anthony List, which aims to elect women to office who oppose abortion, including Palin. Team Sarah, which came together to support Palin's vice presidential bid, has no formal connection to Palin.
Palin's office in Alaska didn't respond when asked whether the governor supported Team Sarah's efforts to derail Sebelius' nomination. Pam Pryor, a spokeswoman for Palin's political action committee, SarahPAC, wouldn't elaborate, either, other than to say that Team Sarah's anti-abortion stance parallels Palin's own views.
"It's an unfair assumption to say that because of who she is, she has to answer for everything that's done in her name," Pryor said.
Palin's time as a vice presidential candidate last year drew a formidable online army of supportive blogs, Web sites and even an Internet radio station. The organizations have expressed unabashed support for Palin.
But they've also used the governor's fame to shine a light on their own causes and raise money for their own goals.
"You cannot believe the number of Web sites," Pryor said. "What about Sarah Palin radio, what the heck is that? She was a political phenom and people have been trying to capitalize on that and make a lot of political hay. She turns people's heads politically, and they're wanting to glom onto that."
It's not clear how aware Palin is of the potential of her online army. Team Sarah has nearly 70,000 members. And one pro-Palin Web site, Conservatives4palin.com, has an active following that is seeing upward of 5,000 visitors a day.
One of the site's main contributors, Rebecca Mansour of Los Angeles, said that the site's aim is to promote Palin in whatever she does — whether it's run for president or simply for re-election as Alaska governor in 2010.
To that end, the main two links on Conservatives4Palin.com are to Web sites where Palin supporters can donate to either her legal expense fund or her political action committee.
Mansour said she has no idea whether Palin knows of the existence of her group's Web site.
"She has nothing at all, whatsoever, to do with any of what we're doing here, that's what's rather funny about it," Mansour said. "We have no idea if she knows we exist. We hope she does, but we have no idea. We don't take our cues from her. We interpret what we see as happening. We just speculate."
As for Team Sarah, Palin has "praised it and thanks people" for their work on it, said Marjorie Dannenfelser, who heads up the Susan B. Anthony List. Dannenfelser said she believes Palin wouldn't have hesitated to let them know "if she ever thought there was a problem."
Last week, Team Sarah called on its members to phone the Senate Finance Committee to voice their objections to Sebelius. An estimated 40 people called in opposing Sebelius' nomination; it's not clear whether all of the callers were affiliated with Team Sarah. But twice as many people called in supporting the Kansas governor after word of the Team Sarah effort was posted on the left-leaning Huffington Post Web site.
On Monday, Team Sarah sent out an action alert to its members, asking them to call the office of Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and urge him to vote against Sebelius' confirmation.
The office logged about 750 calls from Kansans opposing Sebelius' nomination, said Brian Hart, Brownback's spokesman. About a dozen identified themselves as being connected to Team Sarah — Brownback's office did not log the number of calls from people outside of Kansas.
Brownback, an avowed opponent of abortion, voted for his fellow Kansan, nonetheless.
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