Palin Center Stage in Politics, But What of 2012?

Associated Press + More

JUNEAU, Alaska — Sarah Palin isn't going to fade away.

Someone else in her position might have. Two years after the vice presidential nomination made her a star, the 2008 campaign is fading in memory. She's not even Alaska's governor anymore; she abruptly resigned that post a year ago. But she's evolved into an enduring political personality writ large — and now the talk, growing louder, is of her own run for the White House in 2012.

She's still a phenomenon. She can command weeks of headlines for a single Facebook observation — see health care "death panels" — and six-figure speaking fees from groups clamoring for her words. "Going Rogue," her best-selling memoir, added to her luster among the conservative faithful. And in this congressional election year, she has easily eclipsed other Republicans as provider of the most coveted endorsement.

Palin is everywhere: in South Carolina, campaigning for gubernatorial hopeful and fellow "mama grizzly" Nikki Haley; in Nevada, stoking the anti-establishment sentiment of the tea party movement; in Arizona, defending a controversial state law cracking down on illegal immigrants. 

There are two stops she has yet to make in 2010 — Iowa and New Hampshire, the first major prizes of the presidential campaign. But she knows the way: She campaigned in New Hampshire in 2008 and was in Iowa for a book-signing event last December.

Republican strategists and activists in those states, as well as battlegrounds such as Florida, say Palin has a realistic shot at becoming the GOP presidential nominee in 2012, given her fan base and knack for drawing media coverage everywhere she goes. Fifty-eight percent favored Palin in last month's Iowa poll of likely Republican voters, putting her behind party veteran Mitt Romney but slightly ahead of Newt Gingrich. [Read 10 reasons Palin would make a good president.]

Whether she could win the presidency is another matter. 

Palin, for all her populist appeal, is highly polarizing, dismissed by critics and even some Republican aides who worked on the 2008 McCain-Palin presidential campaign as an out-of-her-league lightweight. The most recent Associated Press-GfK poll showed that 52 percent of those surveyed viewed her unfavorably while 45 percent viewed her favorably.

But Sid Dinerstein, GOP chairman in Florida's Palm Beach County, is among those who love Palin.

He has a signed picture of himself with her and argues that she was the only one of the four candidates in the 2008 election qualified to be president. Still, he doesn't want her to run in two years.

"She is currently the single most powerful political person in the country," he said. "The day she announces for president, she gives that up."

It's not that she shouldn't run, someday, says Dinerstein. Given what he considers the unfair pounding she took from the national media in 2008, Dinerstein says she could benefit from a bit more distance. He cites the fresh look he believes Gingrich is getting, years after the Georgian was a political lightning rod as House speaker. [Read 10 reasons Palin would make a bad president.]

If she does run for president in 2012, how might she go about it?

Palin's path probably would begin in Iowa, where her far-right positions could play well with the legions of conservatives who make up the Republican electorate.

But the state is an unforgiving place for female candidates. It's one of just two — Mississippi is the other — never to have elected a female governor or sent a woman to Congress. Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton finished third there in the 2008 caucuses.

David Roederer, who ran John McCain's campaign in Iowa in 2008, says Palin would do well in the state, where grass-roots politics matter and the caucuses tend to be a winnowing-out of the weaker candidates.

"I think Republicans see her as a very genuine, down-to-earth person," he said. "That sure helps you win elections. (But) that in and of itself won't."