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Palin fever and the road to 2012

Mark Mardell | 22:07 UK time, Friday, 3 September 2010

I've got a feeling that Sarah Palin fever is about to mount again.

She's going to Iowa to speak at a Republican fundraiser on 17 September. Iowa is the first critical state for any presidential hopeful. But she's dismissed as "idiot reporters" those who suggest she pursued the chance to speak, rather than being pursued by those who wanted to invite her.

Sarah Palin's first book is just out in paper back, and there's a new one on the way.

Then there's a long, hostile profile in Vanity Fair arguing that "anywhere you peel back the skin of Sarah Palin's life, a sad and mouldering strangeness lies beneath".

This sounds intriguing and there are some interesting tidbits. Palin is known as the "North Star" to her staff, is a bad tipper, and may believe angels protect her from demonic attack.

But the thrust - that she's extravagant, vindictive, and rather more bad tempered in private than in public - is no surprise and only confirms that she is much more like many other political operators than her fans would like to admit.

It doesn't really deal with her future beyond pointing out that Glenn Beck has hired a big hall in Alaska on 11 September, and she will speak. The dynamic duo are becoming something of an item. Talk about a balanced ticket. But the article plants the thought that she could use it to make a big announcement about her presidential ambitions.

This seems unlikely to me. There is no need, and no advantage, that I can see for jumping so early. But it did get me thinking about Sarah Palin's strategy. I have never bought the idea that she will flirt with running only to turn her back on politics for media stardom and wealth. She drips political ambition and neither money nor fame are incompatible with political power in America.

But up to now I have accepted the conventional wisdom that she will be easily beaten in the primaries of 2012. To the Republican hierarchy and commentators it is obvious that she can't win the middle ground and so can't win a presidential race against President Barack Obama. QED Republicans will reject her in the primaries.

She could have tried to counter this by spending the last year making learned policy speeches and investigating the realities of the great abroad, and generally gone about suggesting she's calmed down a bit.

But she hasn't. The only trimming she has done is to support John McCain against a couple of tea party candidates. Instead she has not just cultivated the base, but cleaved to it, whipping hard core conservatives into a frenzy of contempt for the president - Fox news made flesh.

These are the people who will vote and passion may outweigh calculation. Talk about the big mo, the power of momentum. What sort of potential energy builds when you've been campaigning non-stop not months but years before your rivals? Think of the kinetics unleashed when she does make an announcement. She will have the money and the full attention of the media, whether in fascinated revulsion or slavering worship. Pity the Republican who stands up and suggests it really would be more sensible to choose some one who is more of an insider, more moderate and measured.

I'm certainly not arguing she will be the Republican candidate, but I am beginning to find it curious that the Washington consensus all but rules her out.

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