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Palin Putting Out Presidential Feelers in Iowa

Palin Putting Out Presidential Feelers in Iowa

By Scott Conroy - January 20, 2011

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has tasked her aides with quietly gauging her level of support for a potential presidential campaign by making inquiries to a select pool of likely allies and grassroots activists in Iowa, RealClearPolitics has learned.

Key Republican officials and operatives in the nation's first voting state had begun to assume that Palin would not run for president in 2012 since most of them have not heard a word from her or from her small circle of aides, even as other likely candidates have begun jockeying more forcefully behind the scenes. But a Palin adviser confirmed that although the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee's footprint has not been as heavy as that of other possible candidates, her political action committee has indeed been taking discreet steps in Iowa that would help her build a credible campaign here if she decided to launch one.

"The idea that we're not in Iowa is inaccurate," SarahPAC adviser Andy Davis told RealClearPolitics.

A top official in the Iowa Tea Party who insisted on anonymity to avoid betraying Palin's trust told RealClearPolitics that a friend of SarahPAC met with him in person in Des Moines late last year and prodded him for suggestions on how Palin might mount a grassroots campaign in the state.

Earlier this month, the same Iowa Tea Party official began preliminary work on scheduling a potential invitation to Palin for a fundraiser in Iowa. RealClearPolitics independently confirmed that the Tea Party official has been in contact with Palin allies.

Even as speculation has ramped up in media and campaign circles that Palin has become increasingly unlikely to mount a presidential campaign, her aides have been strategizing on how they would organize their infrastructure in Iowa and have continued to reach out gently to close confidantes in the state.

"I know of three of four people in Iowa who have had contact with Palin's aides," the Iowa Tea Party official said.

By all accounts, Palin has not yet made a final decision on whether she will run for president. But the assumption among powerbrokers in Iowa that she would be unwilling or unable to do the traditional legwork required -- and would instead rely almost exclusively on a larger-than-life media campaign to blow away her rivals -- appears to be inaccurate.

Palin's aides have long emphasized in private conversations that she relishes opportunities to engage with voters face-to-face in small venues and would not repeat the mistakes that Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani made in 2008 by declining to do the hard work required in the early states.

Palin's initial Iowa push appears to differ most clearly from that of other candidates in that no SarahPAC staffer has been assigned to work the state on the ground, and her aides are not yet making hard pushes to lock up experienced operatives.

Palin and her staff have been frustrated by false reports about her activity in the state, including one story that was widely circulated before it was debunked, which claimed that aides had been scoping out real estate in Des Moines for a possible campaign headquarters venue.

The confusion has been amplified due to activity on the part of a loose, nationwide network of Palin's most devoted supporters -- many of whom are actively promoting a possible campaign. Several of these Palin devotees have traveled to early voting states at their own expense to try to build grassroots support for a campaign, without the explicit backing of SarahPAC.

One Palin supporter from California told RealClearPolitics that he has spent the better part of two months in Iowa trying to drum up support for a campaign among lower-level officials and activists. During a recent dinner hosted by the Polk County Republicans, a county official mistakenly gained the impression that the California supporter actually worked for SarahPAC and insisted to a reporter on Thursday that Palin already had a staffer on the ground in Iowa.

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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