Sarah Palin will travel to strife-torn Haiti this weekend with Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, on a mission that could burnish her standing on foreign policy and with evangelicals if she pursues a 2012 presidential run.
The trip to the island nation, still ravaged by the effects of last January's earthquake and facing rising civil violence, will be part of a mission by Samaritan's Purse
, the Christian relief operation that the younger Graham heads.
The Associated Press reported
that the duo will be visiting a cholera clinic, among other stops. Palin staffer Rebecca Mansour says the former Alaska governor's husband, Todd, will join her and that daughter Bristol may come along, as well. Gunfire and barricades were reported Thursday in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, and the U.S. State Department reissued a travel warning to the country and recommended against non-essential travel.
Graham issued a statement saying he appreciates Palin's willingness to visit Haiti during troubled times.
"I believe Gov. Palin will be a great encouragement to the people of Haiti and to the organizations, both government and private, working so hard to provide desperately needed relief," he said.
A cholera outbreak has killed more than 2,000 people in Haiti and voting in a recent presidential election is still disputed.
Palin, who is considering a run for president in 2012, has little foreign experience on her resume, and any visit abroad would generate intense interest. Earlier this week she had been rumored to be planning a visit to England or Israel.
But some suggest the trip could help her win support among the Republican Party's critical evangelical base. As Sarah Pulliam Bailey wrote at Christianity Today, Palin -- despite her reputation as a conservative Christian -- has not cultivated ties to evangelical leaders, with the exception of Franklin Graham and, to a lesser extent, his father.
Franklin Graham has been a frequent critic of President Obama, and last summer declared that the president, who is a devout Christian, was "born a Muslim," which played into myths about Obama's religious identity. Earlier this year, Palin defended Graham over his statements about Islam.
In early 2009, as Bailey noted, Palin traveled with Franklin Graham to distribute food in Alaska. She also visited Billy Graham, who recently turned 92, right after the 2008 election.
Writing in Politico, Andy Barr said that the Haiti visit would allow Palin "to better establish her claim to evangelical voters if she chooses to seek the Republican presidential nomination," and he noted that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, one of Palin's potential 2012 rivals, was the choice of most evangelicals in the early 2008 GOP primaries and caucuses.
Billy Graham is in declining health and no longer the political player he once was. But Palin may have won his heart even before they ever met.
"He's a typical man. I don't care if he's 90 years old, he thought that she is so pretty," the elder Graham's daughter, Gigi, told Christianity Today in 2008. "He loves a pretty woman."