Sarah Palin Set to Re-emerge at CPAC

Sarah Palin Set to Re-emerge at CPAC

By Scott Conroy - February 10, 2012

At last year's CPAC gathering, the mere sight of a Sarah Palin impersonator was enough to throw some attendees into a star-struck frenzy.

Such was Palin's clout among conservative activists in February 2011, just a few months after she played a critical role in the 2010 midterms and when she was stoking speculation about her own presidential ambitions.

This year, CPAC attendees won’t have to settle on a doppelganger, as the former Alaska governor is slated to deliver the event’s keynote address on Saturday.

But, with the Michigan and Arizona primaries looming at the end of the month and Super Tuesday following them in early March, how much impact will her words have on race?

With Palin having receded from the headlines -- and her influence having waned within the Republican Party -- the reception her speech receives will be a test of how much sway she retains in the grass-roots movement she personified not so long ago.

Though the “rogue” politician is always liable to spring a surprise, a source inside Palin’s orbit said she would not endorse a presidential candidate in her speech but would instead aim to unify the conservative movement.

Despite her lower profile in recent months, Palin has left a mark on this presidential cycle through her frequent TV appearances on the Fox News Channel, which she conducts from a home studio in Alaska.

But Palin’s CPAC address will be her first public foray outside her home state since she delivered an early November speech in Orlando to the Republican Party of Florida.

Though she has stopped short of endorsing him outright, Palin has been acting as a quasi-surrogate for Newt Gingrich of late and urged Republican voters before the South Carolina and Florida primaries to cast their votes for the former House speaker.

But she has also said positive things about Rick Santorum, and the former Pennsylvania senator’s three victories on Tuesday could complicate her advocacy of Gingrich.

Palin’s husband, Todd, who endorsed Gingrich last month, is not expected to travel with her to Washington, since he is training for the annual Iron Dog snowmobile race in Alaska, which begins in nine days.

Though she has gone out of her way to praise Gingrich and Santorum, Palin has increasingly raised doubts about Mitt Romney and pushed back against perceptions that the national GOP front-runner is the party’s inevitable nominee.

“That glowing enthusiasm isn't there yet,” Palin told Greta Van Susteren earlier this week. “I believe a lot of that is in part the idea that it's a forgone conclusion that Mitt Romney will be the GOP pick. He certainly has the establishment support and much of the media support. I also believe that he is the one that President Obama would love to debate and to run against in November.”

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

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