Here’s Sarah Palin by the numbers: Two events in three days in two early voting states and a total crowd of about 2,600.

And, still, zero clue as to whether she will run for president.

It is a guessing game that Palin continues to stoke with high-profile appearances, slick videos and buzzy catchphrases and soundbites.

(Heard the one about polls and strippers? How about “crony capitalism”?)

So, in New Hampshire, on Labor Day at noon, the same tea-leaf-reading gaggle of national and local reporters and hopeful die-hards came together with the same question: Will she or won’t she?

The homemade signs and four-color buttons said “Palin 2012,” “Real Men Love Sarah” and that Palin can see November from her house.

As James Brown and Ray Charles crooned about America over the loud speakers, 600 people spread out in lawn chairs and on blankets and waited and wondered about Palin.

“I don’t think she’s going to run; I think it’s too late,” said Di Lothrop, a member of the Nashua County Republican group. “She’s bringing her presence here just to support the tea party. But my husband thinks she will run.”

Leighann Foster said Palin will be a power broker but remain on the sidelines.

“She’s a rainmaker for the Republicans,” Foster said. “She brings power and credibility, and she will help whoever wins the nomination.”

Some said they were tired of the guessing game.

“I don’t think average Americans sit around and wonder whether Sarah Palin is running for president. Why are we even following Sarah Palin at this point? At some level, it’s just the media,” said Andrew Hemingway, who heads a local tea party group. “If she were running for president, wouldn’t she be running for president?”

In her speech, similar to her Saturday message in Iowa, Palin urged the tea party movement to grow, to take back the country from the “permanent political class” and to “tell Washington that my kid is not your ATM.”

“Our nation is at a tipping point. So let’s invite candidates who refudiate the crony capitalism and the corporate welfare and the waste and the corrupt politics and the government bailouts for their buddies,” Palin said.

Near the the end of her speech, there seemed to be a perfect place for Palin to make some news, shake up the race, make good on her reputation as an unconventional politician and just say it already.

“We need people with a proven record of reform and who are willing to take on the tough challenges, to run into danger, if you will, not run away from it,” Palin said to the crescendo-sensing crowd.

And then a minute of chanting “Run, Sarah, Run” from a worked-up crowd eager to hear her say . . . “and this is why I am running to become the next president of the United States.”

But then this, only this, from Palin: “I appreciate your encouragement. I do.”

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney pitched himself to a tea party crowd Sunday in New Hampshire and Monday in South Carolina, yet he has hardly made the play for the constituency in the way that his rivals have, and he finds himself trailing in national polls.

Standing on the stage Monday, Palin, who has been critical of Romney, sounded like a would-be gatekeeper for the tea party vote, a quasi-leader for a movement with splintered grassroots groups across the country.

“We need to hear from them directly,” Palin said of the candidates. “We need to hear from those who can do more than just talk, because we tried that, didn’t we?”


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