WASHINGTON — Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R), who has been largely out of the public eye through much of the spring, will re-emerge beginning Sunday as she kicks off an East Coast tour that will put her back in the spotlight and no doubt fuel renewed speculation about a possible presidential campaign in 2012.
"Starting this weekend, Sarah Palin will embark on a one-nation tour of historical sites that were key to the formation, survival and growth of the United States of America," according to a statement from her political action committee. "The tour will originate in Washington, D.C., and proceed north up the East Coast. More information will follow."
Palin advisers declined to provide details of the itinerary or engage questions about whether Palin's public appearances were a precursor to a genuine exploration of a presidential campaign. Asked why she was doing the tour, Tim Crawford, the treasurer of Palin's PAC, said, "Because she wants to see how this nation was built and get fired up about that."
The announcement of the Palin tour coincides with news, first reported in Real Clear Politics, that a full-length documentary by conservative filmmaker Stephen Bannon charting her political rise in Alaska will debut in Iowa next month. Also this week came unconfirmed reports, first appearing in the Arizona Republic, that she and her husband Todd have purchased a $1.7 million home in Scottsdale, Ariz., which would be a more convenient location from which to base a national campaign than Alaska.
Up to now, most Republican strategists have assumed that Palin would not seek the presidency in 2012. She has made no trips this year to Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina, the three most important early states in the nomination calendar. Nor has she been known to be reaching out to potential fundraisers or to grassroots activists.
She traveled to Israel earlier in this spring and has made regular appearances on Fox News, for whom she is a paid contributor, but at a time when the Republican nomination battle has moved into a new phase, the party's 2008 vice presidential nominee has been mostly absent from the scene.
Still, she remains the most significant potential candidate still on the sidelines. A new Gallup Poll, released Thursday, showed Palin with 15 percent among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. That put her second behind former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who was at 17 percent.
The rest of the field came in this order: Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, 10 percent; former House speaker Newt Gingrich, 9 percent; businessman Herman Cain at 8 percent; former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who formally launched his campaign this week; at 6 percent; Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who will make a decision in June, at 5 percent; former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr., who is actively exploring a candidacy, at 4 percent; and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, at 2 percent each.
Over the past few weeks, a series of notable Republicans have announced they won't run. Among them are former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who led many national polls; Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour; Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels; and businessman Donald Trump. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who ran unsuccessfully in 2008, has said he now is considering another run.
Gallup's analysis concluded that Romney and Palin had benefited most from the decisions by Huckabee, Daniels and Trump not to run and that Romney would be the biggest beneficiary if Palin stays out. But the analysis noted that Romney still would be "the weakest frontrunner in a recent Republican nomination campaign."
Palin has long maintained that it was too early to make a decision about running and those who know her believe she could wait longer than most other Republicans and still have the capacity to raise money more quickly than most of her rivals.
In her public appearances this spring, Palin has challenged Republican leaders in Washington to hold firm in budget talks with the White House and Democrats. At a rally in Wisconsin, taking inspiration from the University of Wisconsin female hockey team, she said the party leadership "needs to fight like a girl."
More recently, Fox News host Greta Van Sustern asked about Palin's possible desire to run. "I have that fire in my belly," Palin replied.
Despite the speculation, none of the recent moves by Palin clearly point to a candidacy. Palin is arguably a weaker potential candidate today than she was six months ago. She was hurt politically by the reaction to a video she released in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Tucson that killed six and wounded 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.
Palin accused those who had charged that she and other conservatives had contributed to a climate of violence of having engaged in a "blood libel," a slander of Jews that is centuries old.
Palin's favorability ratings have declined this spring as well. A Washington Post-ABC News poll in March showed that 58 percent of Republicans viewed her favorably while 37 percent viewed her unfavorably. Her unfavorable number was higher than for any other prospective GOP presidential candidate in the rankings.