Sarah Palin Marketing Flourishes in Flirtation With U.S. Presidential Bid

With three words, Sarah Palin placed her marker on U.S. presidential politics while calling attention to her second national book tour and her first reality television show.

“I believe so,” the former Alaska governor said when asked whether she could defeat President Barack Obama in 2012.

Palin’s declaration, delivered in an interview with Barbara Walters of ABC News scheduled for broadcast Dec. 9, coincides with a New York Times interview in which the Republican Party’s 2008 vice presidential nominee said she is considering a White House bid.

She also criticized the Federal Reserve this month, first in a speech and again in a letter published yesterday in the Wall Street Journal in which she questioned plans for $600 billion in monetary stimulus -- a move she termed a “dangerous experiment.”

Palin’s media blitz comes as she embarks on promotional trips for her book “America by Heart” and follows the launch of a reality show about her life in Alaska. The program’s premiere on Nov. 14 drew the biggest audience -- almost 5 million viewers -- for a debut on The Learning Channel cable network, owned by Discovery Communications Inc.

Her actions have intensified speculation over whether she is actively preparing to enter the presidential race or simply keeping her options open while raising her profile. Some political strategists say Palin’s moves before and after the Nov. 2 midterm elections signal someone planning to run.

Dancing With Stars

“She’s either trying to gin up votes for Bristol or she is running for president,” said Republican consultant John Feehery, referring to the so-far-successful run by Palin’s 20- year-old daughter on the ABC television program “Dancing With the Stars.”

Feehery, who advised onetime Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, also said that as Palin keeps voters guessing about her political aspirations, “the mystery helps her make money and keeps her in the news.”

He said Palin, 46, had an “uneven election night,” with some of the candidates she endorsed winning, such as Republican Nikki Haley in South Carolina’s gubernatorial race, and others losing, including Joe Miller, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate she backed in her home state.

Romney Leads

A Nov. 13-14 Gallup poll of Republicans and Republican- leaning independents found that 16 percent backed Palin to be the party’s presidential candidate in 2012, tied for second with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. The pair trailed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. He was supported by 19 percent in the survey, which had a margin of error of plus- or-minus 4 percentage points.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken Oct. 25-28 with a 3- percentage-point margin of error found that 67 percent of registered voters view Palin as unqualified to be president. Feehery said that as Palin mulls her future, she should consider those numbers.

“If she decides she wants to run for president, that’s something she has to reverse,” he said.

Others see Palin’s hints about a presidential run as more about marketing than about a thirst for power.

“It’s about the money,” Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman from Florida and host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” said yesterday of Palin’s assertion that she could beat Obama.

Stopping in Iowa

As part of her book tour, Palin has a Nov. 27 stop in Iowa, the state where the presidential-nominating contests start in February 2012. She was last in the state in September, when she gave the keynote address at the Iowa Republican Party’s largest annual fundraiser.

Other potential Republican presidential candidates making regular visits to Iowa -- both to gauge support and to start building the network it traditionally takes to win the state’s caucuses -- include Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, Romney and Huckabee.

Palin, the surprise pick by Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona as his running mate in the 2008 presidential race, said in the New York Times interview that she is “having that discussion” with her family about a presidential run.

“I take her at her word that she hasn’t made any decision,” said David Yepsen, a former political writer at the Des Moines Register in Iowa who is director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. “She really doesn’t have to for a while, and by very publicly flirting with this, it keeps her in the presidential buzz and it helps all her other business dealings.”

Supporters’ Network

Yepsen said Palin would likely need to decide at least eight months before the Iowa caucuses in order to put together an effective get-out-the-vote operation and build a network of supporters in other early primary states.

“She’s got some work to do in Iowa,” he said. “You can’t just blow into Iowa and win it.”

Yepsen also said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Palin delay running until 2016, allowing her more time to “make money, travel the country, build her base and do a little work on the gravitas thing.”

Some Democrats have signaled their desire for Palin to enter the 2012 race. David Plouffe, who managed Obama’s 2008 campaign, told reporters on Oct. 8 that his party would be “lucky” if she ran.

Palin Acolytes

Several other prospective Republican candidates “are kind of the acolytes of Sarah Palin,” he said. “Now maybe she’ll be running herself. Something tells me we won’t get that lucky.”

In an interview yesterday on CNN, Vice President Joe Biden also expressed little worry about Obama beating Palin.

“I never underestimate anyone,” he said. “But I think in that race, it would be a clear, clear choice for the country to make, and I believe President Obama would be in very good shape.”

A hypothetical matchup between the two showed Obama supported by 52 percent of registered voters, compared with 44 percent for Palin, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey conducted Oct. 27-30. The survey’s margin of error was 3 percentage points.

Palin’s political action committee raised $2.5 million between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30 and contributed $190,500 to candidates and Republican political committees, Federal Election Commission filings show.

‘Palin’s Alaska’

After resigning as Alaska’s governor in July 2009 before completing her four-year term, she became a paid commentator on the Fox News Channel. That has given her a platform to communicate with potential Republican primary voters.

Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” the documentary-style series on TLC, shows her exploring the state’s wilderness with her husband and children. In the first episode, they encountered fighting bears while fishing. Viewers also got a glimpse of the family’s life at home, including Palin preventing daughter Willow’s boyfriend from accompanying the 16-year-old upstairs.

Yepsen cautions that Palin’s growing celebrity status won’t necessarily lay the groundwork for a presidential run.

“People shouldn’t make the mistake that because she can get huge crowds, she is therefore a contender,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: John McCormick in Chicago at jmccormick16@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at msilva34@bloomberg.net.

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