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Five reasons why Sarah Palin will run (and five reasons why she won’t)

It’s official—or at least as official as polls taken 14 or so months before the election: There’s a new sheriff in town. According to Gallup, Rick Perry has unseated Mitt Romney as the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

Perry’s rise hasn’t been terribly surprising. Conservatives have been casting about for a champion to counter Romney for months. For a long stretch earlier in the year, Sarah Palin was viewed as a leading contender for that slot. But as she has played Hamlet-on-the-tundra and made the rounds on Fox News evening lineup, first Michele Bachmann and then Perry came along to try to assume the mantle.

With Perry surging, it’s only natural to ask what his early success means for Palin. She is nearing what she he termed her deadline for making a decision on a presidential bid. She’s set to deliver a speech in Iowa Labor Day weekend, one that may (or just as easily may not) provide some clue about her plans.

Palin recently released a video of the day she spent at the Iowa State Fair, which set off an entirely new round of speculation about her intentions. But she showed this week that she enjoys tweaking the media and the established political class (that’s you, Karl Rove) when they suggest that she has made up her mind.

“Three years ago D.C. pundits predicted with glee the demise of Sarah Palin’s political career. This past weekend their tune changed, citing false information that she has made a decision and set a date regarding a future campaign,” said a statement on the site of her political action committee. “Any professional pundit claiming to have ‘inside information’ regarding Governor Palin’s personal decision is not only wrong but their comments are specifically intended to mislead the American public.’ These are the same tired establishment political games that fuel the 24 hour news cycle and that all Americans will hopefully reject in 2012, and this is more of the “politics-as-usual’ that Sarah Palin has fought against throughout her career.”

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In denying that she’s a candidate, Palin sounded, well, like a candidate.

And so it goes. Speculating about the former vice presidential nominee is almost a full-time avocation, so here’s a look at some of the reasons why, at this relatively late date, Palin may or may not turn the GOP race on its ear.

FIVE REASONS WHY PALIN WILL RUN

  1. Perry is ripe to be taken. The Texas governor’s high-velocity ascent to the top of the pile illustrates the volatility of the race—and perhaps the weakness of the field. If he could so quickly capture the hearts and minds of conservatives, the charismatic and even better-known Palin would seem like a good bet to supplant him. And given the talk in some GOP circles about the need for another candidate to challenge Perry, there appears to be some hunger for yet another option.
  2. She’d be the star of the show. From the moment she declares, Palin would draw media coverage like no other candidate, rendering Perry, Romney, Michele Bachmann and everyone else to an afterthought. She could dine for weeks on the free exposure she’d receive—and the coverage could help make up for the organizational shortcomings she currently has.
  3. She’ll energize the party. Except for perhaps Bachmann and Ron Paul, passion has been the missing ingredient in the Republican field. But Palin’s supporters are die-hards. She is perhaps one of the few candidates who can transform nonvoters into voters, something Republicans may need to match Democratic turnout.
  4. She’ll do it her way. During her “One Nation” bus tour, Palin proved that she could bend the media—and local officials—to her will, showing up practically unannounced, granting selective interviews and interacting with the public as she chose. She has repeatedly said that she would mount a nontraditional campaign, one that would likely leverage her celebrity as much as possible. She may relish the challenge of seeing how far that celebrity can take her, and she seems unconcerned about the effects the media scrum would have on her and her family.
  5. She can’t lose. Whether she captures the nomination—or the White House—Palin will have made her own kind of history and likely buttressed her image as a straight-talking, anti-establishment conservative. She could drop out at any time, blame the party hierarchy and still have legions of (and perhaps new) admirers.

FIVE REASONS WHY PALIN WON’T RUN

  1. Her window has closed. She had her shot, but Perry’s entry and Bachmann’s popularity among “tea party” conservatives, have siphoned away the support she would need to mount a serious run. Where before she may have been able to fashion herself as the only significant challenger to Romney, Perry can make the same argument—and he’s a longtime governor of a prosperous state.
  2. She can’t do it her way. Even Barack Obama, with all of the fawning media coverage and all of the attention he received in 2007 and 2008, had to build an extensive, sprawling network of operatives, volunteers and surrogates to first beat Hillary Clinton and then capture the presidency. Until someone proves otherwise, presidential campaigns succeed from the ground up, not the top down. Palin has shown no sign of wanting to build an operation such as that, nor has shown any desire for day-in, day-out campaigning. There’s also the question of money. While it’s generally assumed that Palin wouldn’t have trouble raising funds for her campaign, that hasn’t been tested. And as Romney and Perry work to lock up donors, time is becoming an enemy in that regard.
  3. She has it pretty good. Palin is one of America’s biggest stars—and she can have an effect on Republican politics by simply posting on Facebook. Her status as a private citizen allows her to choose where and when she engages the media. And right now, she makes a lot of money, whether from her reportedly $1-million Fox News contract, speaking gigs or books. The bottom line is that she is in almost complete control of her time and her image. If she runs, that will change dramatically. And coming up short risks damaging a brand that she has worked hard to cultivate.
  4. She’ll split the party. Somewhere, GOP strategists are lighting candles in the hope that Palin doesn’t enter the race. It could set off a fierce range war among Bachmann, Perry and Palin for conservative support, one that could drag deep into the primaries and result in a surfeit of bruised egos and feelings. Who would benefit? Likely Romney—and perhaps, ultimately, Obama.
  5. She can’t win. Palin has never shown the potential to capture the votes of mainstream, centrist Americans in the numbers that she needs to win the White House. And now, polls in Iowa and elsewhere show her support among Republicans shrinking, even as respondents say they like and admire her--a recognition on their part perhaps that she is better suited to be an outside agitator in the party rather than a candidate for office.

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