Sarah Palin (still) not playing in early primary states

at 02:45 PM ET, 05/26/2011


Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin waves during a fund raiser at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, Colo., on Monday, May 2, 2011. The event raised money for a charity for families of fallen service members. (Ed Andrieski - AP)
Talk of a 2012 presidential bid by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin has reached fever pitch (again) after news broke this week of an East Coast bus tour to historical sites, a possible home purchase in Arizona and a new film biopic about her rise to political power in Alaska.

But, for all the chatter — on blogs, cable news and elsewhere — that Palin’s latest series of moves has occasioned, there remains no evidence in any early voting primary or caucus state that she or her political team are doing anything to lay the groundwork for a 2012 bid.

“There has been zero outreach, zero effort,” said one senior South Carolina strategist of Palin. “Even when she was here for the [Gov. Nikki] Haley endorsement and the book signing, she swooped in [and] swooped out.”

An Iowa operative closely monitoring the 2012 race in the state although unaligned with any candidate echoed that sentiment. “If [Palin] is doing any outreach at all, it would have to be totally under the radar and not with the traditional activist crowd.”

A spokesman for Palin’s political action committee did not return an email seeking comment on her early-state activities — if any.

Palin’s seeming lack of behind-the-scenes outreach is in keeping with the dearth of public trips she has made to these early states since she was chosen by Arizona Sen. John McCain to be the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2008.

Palin hasn’t been to either Iowa or South Carolina yet in 2011 — she stopped in both states during her book tour last December — and hasn’t been to New Hampshire since 2008. (Yes, you read that right. 2008.)

The lack of attention — organizationally and otherwise — Palin has lavished on these early states seems to belie the idea that she is further along the road to a presidential run than previously imagined.

The reality of the presidential nomination fight is that it is a state by state battle not a national race. And, in each of those early states, voters are not only accustomed to being courted by candidates but consider it an absolute necessity in terms of winning their vote.

Not surprisingly then, Palin’s poll standing in these early voting states has ebbed. In Iowa, Palin’s numbers have slipped among Republicans ; in a recent New Hampshire survey, the 2008 vice presidential nominee took just five percent — good for fifth place.

While that sort of standing in Iowa and New Hampshire would amount to a political death sentence for most aspiring national candidates, Palin is different in a fundamental way from the rest of the 2012 field.

She is a star — we like to call her a “celebritician” — and if and when she decides to run for president, the sheer force of her personality coupled with her strong following from within the tea party movement could allow her to rapidly catch up with her already-running rivals.

(Worth noting: Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee had only the thinnest formal organization in Iowa but managed to win the 2008 Iowa caucuses.)

But, organizations are not built overnight and support in early states doesn’t come with a simple snap of the fingers or declaration of candidacy.

That reality is why all of the renewed Palin talk needs to be taken cum grano salis. Her national persona, fundraising abilities and star power all make her a force to be reckoned with. But without early-state organizations to build on that recognition, Palin’s presidential candidacy could sputter.

 
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