Palin Center Stage in Politics, But What of 2012?

Associated Press + More

Palin endorsed former Gov. Terry Branstad in the recent Republican gubernatorial primary, a nod to the more mainstream candidate that angered some in the tea party movement. Roederer called it a "shrewd move," should she decide to run for president. Branstad won, and he'll face one of the more vulnerable Democratic governors, Chet Culver, this fall.

If Palin does make a serious run for president, Bob Haus, a longtime political strategist in Iowa, suggests she not wait too long. In 2008, Haus worked for Fred Thompson, the much-buzzed-about candidate who got in late and fizzled fast.

"You don't have to be out there two-plus years in advance," he said. But once a decision's made, "you have to commit maximum resources. This is a huge undertaking, one of the toughest job application processes in the world because it's probably the toughest job in the world."

In New Hampshire, Phyllis Woods, a Republican National Committeewoman from Dover, ticks off the names of potential candidates who have been well-received in visits to the state: Romney, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

While Palin hasn't been on the local radar in recent months, Woods said there are many in the state who like her a lot. [Check out our gallery of political cartoons about Sarah Palin.]

"I think absolutely anybody could be the nominee or has the right to run," she said. "As the vice presidential nominee two years ago, I think the potential is there that there could be support."

Palin has been noncommittal about her intentions, saying only that she is keeping all options open. In recent weeks, however, she has stepped up her criticism of Obama's leadership and focused on her own credentials.

To be considered "she will have to do a better job of developing policy she is for, beyond the standard operating procedure for Republicans: less taxes, less spending, less government, more freedom," said David Johnson, a GOP strategist based in Tallahassee, Fla.

Her immediate focus, aides say, is on 2010 and getting conservatives elected. So far this primary season, she's scored some high-profile wins, including with Haley in South Carolina. She has another book in the works, an enviable spot as a Fox News contributor, a travelogue TV series on the way and a schedule on the speaking circuit. She reportedly has made at least $12 million from the book and other media deals.

"I think if you want to look at what motivates Sarah Palin, it's that the country is seriously on the wrong track," said Rebecca Mansour, a consultant to her political action committee. "There's also the issue of, if you're given a megaphone and able to speak out on something positive, it would be a shame not to use it." [Read 10 things you didn't know about Palin.]

Palin's comfortable position is a far cry from the place she'd landed right after the 2008 election.

She faced a barrage of ethics complaints (most later dismissed). Her teenage daughter had a baby, further stoking tabloid interest in her family's life. She had bitter fights with Alaska's legislature. There were complaints Palin had gone Hollywood, that her heart was no longer in the job.

Her words and actions still remained fodder for comic actress Tina Fey.

Palin said she felt besieged then, but she had no intention of disappearing.

In announcing her resignation on July 3, 2009 — the timing around Independence Day intentional, and symbolic — she pledged to fight for the state and nation in other ways by advocating everywhere for less government and individual rights.

And running for president? Well, she hasn't said.

"I've never believed that I, nor anyone else, needs a title to do this, to make a difference, to help people," she said.

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