Palin fuels presidential fire, but at what cost?

Posted Sept. 01, 2011, at 5:34 a.m.
In this Aug. 12, 2011, file photo, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin greets the crowd after she was interviewed by Sean Hannity of FOX News at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa. Palin soon will end the will-she-or-won't-she presidential speculation that has trailed her for two years _ and that she has fueled with abandon, perhaps to the detriment of her potential candidacy.  (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
AP | AP
In this Aug. 12, 2011, file photo, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin greets the crowd after she was interviewed by Sean Hannity of FOX News at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa. Palin soon will end the will-she-or-won't-she presidential speculation that has trailed her for two years _ and that she has fueled with abandon, perhaps to the detriment of her potential candidacy. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

JUNEAU, Alaska — Sarah Palin soon will end the will-she-or-won’t-she presidential speculation that has trailed her for two years — and that she has fueled with abandon, perhaps to the detriment of her potential candidacy.

“America is waiting for the president to make good on this promise,” the former Alaska governor recently posted on Twitter, linking to a video of President Barack Obama pledging to run a transparent government. She set up Saturday’s scheduled visit to Iowa with, “I’ll be talking about this and more.”

It was the “and more” part that got many supporters all atwitter. And it’s what prompted another round of buzz over whether the GOP’s 2008 vice presidential nominee will seek the top spot on ballot this time.

Her upcoming weekend appearances at tea party events in Iowa and New Hampshire are causing rumblings, too. But she has said she probably won’t announce her plans until later in September, ensuring one more month of tea-leaf reading — and teasing — in a year filled with it.

Palin’s consideration period has been as unconventional as her presidential campaign seemingly would be.

She would stay quiet for weeks, only to pop up just when an official Republican candidate was going to own the spotlight. Over Memorial Day weekend she launched an East Coast bus tour that included New Hampshire — on the same day and in the same state that Mitt Romney announced his candidacy.

She visited Iowa a day before the statewide straw poll and Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s entrance into the race. A week later, she rolled out a campaign-style web video showcasing that visit and promising Iowans she’d see them again in a few weeks.

Her approach has allowed her to stay in the conversation without exposing herself to the rigors of the campaign trail or the scrutiny befitting a full-fledged presidential candidate. And if she doesn’t run, she has managed to boost her profile while building a lucrative multimedia platform that includes being a paid analyst on Fox News, writing best-selling books and being a sought-after speaker.

Should she run, however, she may have hurt herself by playing the wait-and-see game for so long. Two candidates with strong tea party support — Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann — have blossomed in recent months, raising questions about whether the cat-and-mouse game Palin has played has done irreparable damage by turning off potential supporters.

“We are coming to the end of the line for Sarah Palin’s ability to string the Republican primary voters along,” wrote conservative blogger Erick Erickson of RedState last week. “They are trying to settle on a candidate now, they’ve held out hope of her entry and are now ready for her to put up or shut up. Many of them have already moved on.”

Erickson also suggested she’s damaged her chances, saying: “Palin could get back a number of voters should she get into the race, people who gave up on her running and moved on to someone else. But, I do not think it would put her in a strong enough position to get into first or second place.”

Indeed, polling over the past year shows a sharp drop-off in support for Palin among non-tea-party Republicans: 39 percent have a positive view of her while 52 percent view her negatively in the latest Associated Press-GfK poll. That’s compared with last November, when 62 percent viewed her favorably and 32 percent viewed her unfavorably.

“After a while you get a little tired of the tease,” South Carolina Republican strategist Chip Felkel said, comparing Palin to a girl who doesn’t want to date you but doesn’t want you to date anyone else either. “And in this case, I think the voters have found another girlfriend.”

He may be correct.

A recent Pew poll showed 41 percent of Republicans saying there’s “no chance” they would ever vote for Palin, and recent Gallup survey showed her tied for third with Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 11 percent nationally even though she’s not in the race.

Still, Palin’s approach doesn’t seem to be wearing thin among her hardcore backers.

“It’s a big decision to make, and I wouldn’t want her to go into it if she doesn’t feel prepared,” said Tracey Porreca, who lives east of Delta Junction, Alaska, and is with Alaskans4Palin.com. “I’ll support her whatever her decision is.”

Equally enthusiastic Palin backers swamped her at the Iowa State Fair and when she visited Washington, D.C., as part of her bus tour. And they still seem to be flocking to draft-Palin web sites, pressing her to run. “What can we do to convince a free spirited, snow machine ridin’, caribou huntin’ wife and mother to give us her servant’s heart for the eight years necessary to restore our nation to greatness?” a supporter posted on organize4palin.com earlier this month.

Palin also remains quite popular among her base — Republicans who consider themselves members of the tea party — with 83 percent viewing her favorably and just 16 percent viewing her unfavorably in a recent AP-GfK poll.

Publically, there are few signs that Palin is laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign, at least a traditional one where candidates build organizations in key early voting states and personally chat up voters at local venues. Privately, even close aides say they don’t know whether she plans to run.

The only thing certain is that the clock is ticking. Deadlines to get on primary ballots in key states come this fall and the three candidates running strongest in polls — Romney, Perry and Bachmann — have been campaigning for weeks, if not months.

“Is the window closed? No, but it’s getting closed,” said David Roederer, who ran John McCain’s Iowa campaign in 2008. “It would take some effort to get through the window at this point.”

Associated Press Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta and writer Philip Elliott in Washington contributed to this report.

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