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Palin Plans to Meet Key Early-State Leaders

Palin Plans to Meet Key Early-State Leaders

By Scott Conroy - June 3, 2011

PORTSMOUTH, N.H -- Sarah Palin insists that she is not yet running for president, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that she is indeed seriously interested in the job.

The former Alaska governor had purposely steered clear of high-profile Republicans on the first leg of her nationwide bus tour this week, but that changed suddenly on Friday morning when she had coffee here at The Golden Egg Diner with New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

Palin endorsed Ayotte during her hard-fought primary battle last July, and in a brief interaction with reporters here, the former Republican vice presidential nominee indicated that she was not yet finished making the rounds with key GOP officials to whom she lent her support during the 2010 midterms.

"I just heard from Nikki Haley the other day in South Carolina, and she'd love for us to hit her state, too," Palin said of the first-term South Carolina governor to whom she provided critical backing last year.

Asked if she also intended to meet with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad during her impending trip to the nation's first presidential voting state, Palin told RealClearPolitics, "I endorsed him, too, early on, so yes."

An aide to Branstad told RCP that Palin has not yet reached out to the Iowa governor.

Palin's eagerness to talk about her outreach to these three key early-state leaders is yet another indicator that she is earnestly contemplating a presidential campaign -- a decision that she may put off until as late as October.

Palin said that in addition to her impending visits to Iowa and South Carolina, she also now intends to take her bus tour to the West Coast.

Though she has for years derided what she refers to as the "lamestream media," Palin has eagerly and cheerfully spoken with reporters throughout the past week and has clearly enjoyed the presidential buzz that she has begun to fuel in increasingly unabashed fashion.

Ayotte, asked whether she would consider endorsing the former Alaska governor if she does run for president, at first tried to walk away without answering the question and was then noncommittal.

"I'm focused on serving the people of New Hampshire in the U.S. Senate, and that's where my focus is," she said. "Again, it's up to her what decision she makes with her future . . . and also what I've said before is anyone who is running for president, I certainly will sit down and talk with everyone about what their plan is for the future of America."

If she does run, Palin would likely focus on Iowa and South Carolina, where her socially conservative bona fides and tea party message would likely play well, but she has suggested several times that she would not write off any state if she gets in the race and may also campaign heavily in New Hampshire, where she would start as a heavy underdog.

Palin's formidable retail politicking skills and natural ability to connect on a human level could play well here with Republican primary voters like Jack Doykos, who happened to be eating breakfast with his wife when Palin stopped by the Golden Egg.

Though Doykos is still an undecided voter, he had a telling response when asked what he thought of Palin just after he met her for the first time.

"I think more of her now than I did 10 minutes ago," he said.

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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