Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin announced Wednesday evening that she would not be running for president in 2012.

On the Mark Levin radio show Wednesday evening, Palin said she believed she would have more impact outside of the race. The decision ends over a year of speculation about the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee’s plans.

“Not being a candidate, really you are unshackled and you’re able to be even more active,” she told Levin. “I need to be able to say what I want to say.”

Palin is still a huge star, but she has steadily sunk in polls since the 2008 campaign. If she ran and fared poorly, it would only diminish her influence.

“This is virtually a win-win decision for her,” said Tracey Schmitt, a Republican strategist who worked with Palin in 2008. “By keeping her powder dry for whatever the future holds, she is preserving her power of celebrity.”

Sarah Palin has decided not to run for president in 2012. (Melina Mara/Post)

For months, Palin has been stoking rumors that she would get into the race — launching a bus tour that took her to New Hampshire and Iowa, telling Newsweek she could win, taking shots at President Obama on Facebook and Twitter. But she never built the kind of political operation considered necessary for a serious campaign.

As time passed, she kept pushing back her own personal deadline — at first saying she would decide by the end of the summer, then by the end of September, then October or later.

With primaries moving earlier and earlier, filing deadlines in some states were looming.

Last week, Palin expressed doubts about a campaign in an interview with Fox News’ Greta van Susteren, saying a campaign might be “too shackle-y” for “someone like me, who's a maverick -- you know, I do go rogue and I call it like I see it.”

While she maintains a loyal fan base, Palin reached a tipping point in polls months ago. Had she gotten into the race at this late stage, she would have been a second-tier candidate at best. She polls in the single-digits, gets mixed reviews on her leadership qualities even among Republicans, and performs poorly against President Obama in head-to-head matchups.

In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, 66 percent of Republican and GOP-leaning respondents said they did not want Palin to run.

In a full statement sent to supporters, Palin wrote:

After much prayer and serious consideration, I have decided that I will not be seeking the 2012 GOP nomination for President of the United States. As always, my family comes first and obviously Todd and I put great consideration into family life before making this decision. When we serve, we devote ourselves to God, family and country. My decision maintains this order.

My decision is based upon a review of what common sense Conservatives and Independents have accomplished, especially over the last year. I believe that at this time I can be more effective in a decisive role to help elect other true public servants to office – from the nation’s governors to Congressional seats and the Presidency. We need to continue to actively and aggressively help those who will stop the “fundamental transformation” of our nation and instead seek the restoration of our greatness, our goodness and our constitutional republic based n the rule of law.

From the bottom of my heart I thank those who have supported me and defended my record throughout the years, and encouraged me to run for President. Know that by working together we can bring this country back – and as I’ve always said, one doesn’t need a title to help do it.

I will continue driving the discussion for freedom and free markets, including in the race for President where our candidates must embrace immediate action toward energy independence through domestic resource developments of conventional energy sources, along with renewables. We must reduce tax burdens and onerous regulations that kill American industry, and our candidates must always push to minimize government to strengthen the economy and allow the private sector to create jobs.

Those will be our priorities so Americans can be confident that a smaller, smarter government that is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people can better serve this most exceptional nation.

In the coming weeks I will help coordinate strategies to assist in replacing the President, re-taking the Senate, and maintaining the House.

Thank you again for all your support. Let’s unite to restore this country!

Along with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to stay out of the race, Palin’s announcement virtually ensures that the Republican presidential field is now set.

Palin’s fellow Republicans sung her praises in statements after the announcement.

“Sarah Palin is a good friend, a great American, and a true patriot” who will “continue to be a strong voice for conservative values and needed change in Washington,” wrote Texas Gov. Rick Perry in a statement.

“Governor Palin is a good friend of mine and I think the world of her,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) in a statement. “She has been an important voice in the conservative movement and has a lifetime of opportunity ahead of her.”

“I am confident she’ll continue to play an important role in our Party and for our nation,” wrote Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), her former running-mate, on Twitter.

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