Is the presidential game finally on for Sarah Palin?

Washington Bureau

Sarah Palin told President Obama this weekend that the "game" is "on." But it remains less than clear what that game is.

Was Palin’s speech this weekend at an anti-union "tea party" rally in Wisconsin a sign that the combustible former governor is growing more serious about a presidential bid? Or will she instead continue to lob anti-Obama rhetorical grenades from the sidelines?

After a busy campaign season in 2010, Palin has largely avoided public speaking engagements like the one she attended in Madison on Saturday. But the results of her appearance appeared mixed—and if Palin wants to bolster her standing among Republicans, which polls have shown to be steadily dropping, she may yet have some work to do.

According to police, about 6,500 people showed up at the rally to hear Palin’s speech, but many of them were pro-union forces who drowned out Palin and her backers.

Still, the former vice presidential nominee pressed on, delivering a stump speech packed with criticism of President Obama that made her sound very much like a candidate.

“Instead of reducing spending, they’re going to 'win the future' by 'investing' more of your hard-earned money in some cockamamie, harebrained ideas like more solar shingles, more really fast trains – some things that venture capitalists will tell you are non-starters,” Palin told the crowd. “We’re flat broke, but he thinks these solar shingles and really fast trains will magically save us. So now he’s shouting 'all aboard' his bullet train to bankruptcy. Win the future? W.T.F. is about right."

Palin also appeared to embrace the budget blueprint authored by Rep. Paul Ryan -- and passed by the House on Friday -- that would fundamentally reshape Medicare and Medicaid:

“And when Wisconsin’s own Paul Ryan presented a plan for fiscal reform, what was Obama’s response? He demonized the voices of responsibility with class warfare and with fear-mongering. And I say personally to our president: Hey, parent to parent, Barack Obama, for shame for you to suggest that the heart of the common-sense conservative movement would do anything to harm our esteemed elders, to harm our children with Down syndrome, to harm those most in need. No, see, in our book, you prioritize appropriately and those who need the help will get the help. The only way we do that is to be wise and prudent and to budget according to the right priorities.”

While blasting Obama, Palin at the same time browbeat the Republican leadership in the House, suggesting that it had capitulated on the deal to keep the government funded through the rest of the fiscal year. The House passed the budget accord on Thursday, and the president signed it Friday.

“Yeah, I’ll take on the GOP establishment. What more can they say about us, you know?” she said. “We didn’t elect you just to rearrange the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic. We didn’t elect you to just stand back and watch Obama redistribute those deck chairs. What we need is for you to stand up, GOP, and fight.”

Palin also called Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker courageous, and protesters angry about his effort to scale back collective bargaining in the state “rent-a-mobs.”

To close her speech, Palin declared: “The 2012 election begins here!” and "Mr. President, game on!"

Following the address, her spokesperson and gatekeeper, Rebecca Mansour (profiled here), retweeted message after message from attendees praising Palin and urging that she run for president.

Palin has done little to build a traditional foundation for a presidential run, but many GOP strategists argue that her celebrity makes that sort of retail politicking unnecessary, even in states such as Iowa that value in-person campaigning.

And even with her current high disapproval ratings, there seems little doubt, given the ardent feelings of her fan base, that if Palin were to declare her interest in running for the White House, she would immediately leap to the ranks of the top-tier contenders.

That seems especially true considering the lack of passion the established contenders such as Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney seem to be inspiring at the moment.  (See also: Trump, Donald.)

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